Buccaneers and Garryowen served up a six-try thriller in which the home side stayed cool to claim a deserved 25-22 Ulster Bank League Division 1B victory at sun-soaked Dubarry Park, Athlone on Saturday. The Pirates were worthy of the spoils for they were the more ambitious side holding on in a frenetic finish.
Both teams made changes from their opening day fixtures. Garryowen made three alterations with Buccs having five personnel plus some positional changes for this Dubarry of Ireland-sponsored match played in glorious, warm sunshine.
The homesters, utterly transformed from the dismal display at Malone, came hurtling out of the starting blocks and Alan Gaughan and Callum Boland almost combined in unorthodox fashion to unlock the visitors’ defence in the opening minute. It took Buccs just a further three minutes to do that after Garryowen failed to make touch with a clearance from a scrum. Rory O’Connor gathered possession on the right to launch a counter-attack that was excellently finished by FitzGibbon for an unconverted try on the left.
Virtually from the restart, Mata Fifita secured good ball and the Pirates were swiftly raiding again where Layden deftly dummied and surged forward before off-loading to Halligan who darted in for a super seventh-minute try on the left which Gaughan converted for a 12-0 lead.
Jamie Gavin opened Garryowen’s account with an 18th-minute penalty after Buccs were guilty of not releasing but within two minutes the Limerick side responded as Gaughan stroked the placekick over. Gaughan drilled over another penalty for an 18-3 advantage.
Garryowen grabbed a lifeline early in the second half when James Tormey was, somewhat harshly, sin-binned after 51 minutes. James Frawley got in for a try which Gavin converted. As the exchanges became more physical, Billy Henshaw had to be alert, quick, and brave to avert a Garryowen score but the visitors continued to turn the screw while they had temporary numerical superiority. A quick break from the back of a 61st minute scrum was capitalised on by Barry O’Mahony for a try that narrowed the margin to 18-15.
Then Fifita rampaged hard up the middle and, from his pass, Dolan cutely out-foxed the Garryowen defence to ghost in at the posts for a 65th minute try which Gaughan converted to edge the Pirates 10 points ahead.
The visitors continued to battle and Frawley somehow evaded two Buccaneers defenders in tight space to dot down for his second try in the right corner. Gavin’s fine conversion reduced the gap, but Buccs held out.
Buccaneers will be hoping to build on the momentum from last week’s winning performance against Garryowen when they travel to meet another club powerhouse, Shannon, in the third round of the Ulster Bank League Division 1B in Limerick on Saturday, kick off 2.30pm.
The more experienced players stepped up to the mark last Saturday and the younger brigade all contributed in an enterprising and committed all-round effort. Shannon have lost their two opening games which will make them dangerous opposition so the Midlanders will need to maintain their focus, application, and teamwork against the league specialists.
The nine times champions Shannon are rebuilding but have some fine players in their squad, particularly in their backline where the influence of Tadhg Bennett, David O’Donovan, and Dave Evans must be curbed. Niall Horan, Pat Kearns, and Ruairi O’Donnell can be counted on to be competitive in the Munster side’s pack.