Buccaneers kick off this season’s Ulster Bank League division 1B campaign with a home fixture against Bruff in Dubarry Park on Saturday at 2.30pm.
Buccs took the honours on the two previous occasions they metlast season but, after surviving the threat of relegation in the playoffs, Bruff will surely give the Midlanders a searching test in Athlone.
Buccs will field a much-changed squad to that of last season. Conor Higgins and Stephen Burke have both headed to Australia, while Colin Watters is in the USA for a year.
Aidan Wynne and Shane Monahan were both released by Connacht, while Jaryd Bennett has joined Dungannon. However, Buccs have a burgeoning number of exciting young players in their ranksand indeed Connacht’s all conquering u20 team had no less than six young Buccs starting in last week’s win over Munster with another duo also in the squad. Jack Carty, Callum Boland, Robert Henshaw, Conor Finn, and Shane Layden all played prominent roles in the Connacht backline, while Daniel Qualter was our sole representative in the pack.
The Athlone outfit has also recruited a number of highly promising operators including Michael Kearney, who was Qualter’s second row colleague in the Ireland u20 side last season, and backrower David Heffernan while richly talented scrum half Mark Dolan rejoins his hometown club. Young props Denis Buckley and John Rowe have also arrived at Dubarry Park so competition for the front-row berths will be keen. Eoghan Grace could be a key signing as the former Shannon and Exeter Chiefs player will bring not only his talent but considerable experience to the pack.
The team will be captained this year by Kolo Kiripati, and the popular Samoan can be counted on to lead by example in the pack where Garreth Halligan, James Tormey, Michael Diffley, and Eoin Rooney have a wealth of experience. Flankers John Hayes and Michael Ward will be hoping to break through to the first XV as will the versatile Sean Stapleton but pacey winger Rory O’Connor is ruled out through injury. John O’Brien, Paul Harte, Alex Hayman, Padraig de Burca, and Conor Lavelle all missed last week’s game at Corinthians but are hopeful of being fit for selection. Their availability would be a decided boost for coach Hendre Marnitz.