Buccaneers return to Ulster Bank League action with a trip to The Mardyke in Cork on Saturday January 7 where they tackle University College, Cork, in a division 1B encounter kicking off at 2.30pm.
The Midlanders will be favourites for this tie against the students who are undergoing a torrid campaign, but Buccs will need to be focussed and disciplined for this is the proverbial “banana skin” match. Last season’s corresponding fixture will confirm that worry, when Buccs got off to a flyer with two early tries, had numerous other try scoring opportunities, yet slipped up to what proved a crucial defeat as UCC took three of just four try chances to outpoint the Athlone outfit, who failed to win a league game for the remainder of the season. Hence, the Pirates will need to be on their guard!
Winless UCC are adrift at the bottom of the league table with just three losing bonus points to their credit and a massive minus 78 points scoring difference. Meanwhile, Buccaneers have lost just once in a campaign where they have, arguably, being doing better than anticipated. Thus Saturday’s contest with UCC is one that the Midlanders’ supporters will be more than hopeful of winning. But their representatives on the field of play must be prepared for a hard slog and be clinical with whatever chances come their way.
Discipline is essential, for UCC have decent place-kicking options in both Brian Kingston and ex-Dolphin man Cormac O’Flynn, who both compete for the outhalf berth where alert scrumhalf Brian Slater is the link man. In the three-quarters line the lineage of famous southern rugby names Kiernan and Parfrey is continued with James and Pat respectively. Longford brothers Garrett and Oscar O’Suilleabhain could also feature in a lively backline where Munster’s Denis Hurley and Cyprian Jouve could make a difference. Number eight Brian O’Callaghan skippers the side and may get best support in the pack from hooker Wayne Falvey, lock Brian Quill, and flanker Michael Linehan while tighthead prop Paddy Ryan may have a point or two to prove to some of Buccs’ mentors.
The Pirates opted for James Robinson in that position but he will be out for some time due to injury while Sean Stapleton too is likely to be absent. With Connacht struggling for results and with a growing injury list in the west, Denis Buckley could miss this one along with Michael Kearney and Eoghan Grace. This would weaken Buccs in the forwards battle but Martin Staunton has rallied to the cause with smashing displays when called upon while neither James Tormey nor Benny Gilligan should be found wanting. Marcus Madden made a welcome return in the recent Exiles match and he would give decent options in a number of roles if needed. It will be essential that Kolo Kiripati, Garreth Halligan, Daniel Qualter, and David Heffernan stamp their authority in the forwards exchanges and give a potent Pirates backline a decent supply of quality possession.
Here there is bags of potential with Jack Carty, Callum Boland, and Shane Layden all Ireland u20 contenders as is Conor Finn whose season has been plagued with injury. However, the winger is again raring to go and could make his first AIL start on Saturday. John O’Brien, Mark Dolan, Adam Kennedy, and Paul Harte are other livewire backs while Alex Hayman and Conor Lavelle are stalwarts with tons of experience in the likely absence of Brian Touhy.
While the students will likely be recharged and up for battle after the lengthy Christmas break, Buccs should have enough in hand to prevail although searching questions will certainly be asked for the opening hour at least.