Buccaneers open this season’s AIB League campaign with a difficult assignment away to Young Munster at Tom Clifford Park, Limerick, on Saturday October 3. Kick off time is 2.30pm for this division 1B encounter in the new look league set-up, in which each club plays each other home and away in proper league format.
This will be a tough test for Buccaneers whose new coaching/management team will be putting their trust in many talented but young shoulders on Saturday. Coach Neal Culliton and captain Colm Rigney have a smaller than usual squad to work with this term and a shortage of quality backs plus some injuries limits their options in certain areas. However, backs coach Tony O’Brien has been working hard in fine-tuning the backline, and for many of Buccs upcoming players this is the opportunity they have been waiting for.
The Midlanders will look to their pack particularly to set the tone and here there will be none better than skipper Rigney to lead by example at number eight. One of five brothers from the famed Rigney sporting clan to have played in Buccs colours, Colm returns to full-time action with the club after many seasons campaigning with Connacht. He will bring much-needed leadership, know-how, and steel to a developing squad in which youth will get its fling, none more so than in the front row where hooker Garreth Halligan will be propped by Conor Higgins and Martin Staunton, two players with immense potential. Locks Anthony Hughes and James Tormey may lack some bulk but they are adept lineout options whilst mobile around the pitch. Recent U20s Padraig Burke and Sean Stapleton have been making strong bids for starting berths at flanker, where the recent returns from overseas by both Colin Watters and Stephen Burke increase Buccs options at wing forward. The return by the latter Burke is particularly vital bearing in mind the absence through injury of the immensely experienced Kolo Kiripati. Marcus Madden, although used in the backline so far this season, is another who may feature in the pack as is Brendan McManus who would bring added bulk to the second row.
Although the pack should line out more or less on anticipated lines, the backline has for a number of reasons proven a much more difficult puzzle to solve. Team mentors have not had the comfort of a full deck to play with so far in their preparations, but expect to field much closer to full strength on Saturday. Much will depend on the likely halfback partnership of Adam Kennedy and Johannes Hendrik Potgeiter. Kennedy is a burgeoning talent especially at scrum-half, while fingers will be crossed that ‘JH’ will make an immediate impact. If this duo blossoms, then the strong and wily Alex Hayman can anchor the centre where his partner is likely to be Gavin Kelly or the so versatile Madden. Paul Harte and Billy Henshaw are two potent wingers while Brendan Carpenter, Mark Dolan and Peter Smith are others who should be in contention for starting berths.
Young Munster, meanwhile, have apparently been active on the recruitment front and they will be buoyed by their first Limerick Charity Cup triumph in 13 seasons when they outpointed UL Bohemian last weekend. Aaron Carroll was their try scorer while Buccaneers’ target Alan Kingsley kicked a penalty in each half to grab this victory. Munster stalwart Mike Prendergast has taken over the reins as coach and, on their own patch, the ‘Cookies’ will be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
However, if Buccaneers can line out near to full strength, are focussed and alert from the very start of each half, and play with composed aggression to their overall strengths, then an upset is on the cards. But attitude, approach and workrate needs to be spot on from the kick-off to the very final whistle with no lapses of concentration or discipline.