Galwegians consolidated their position as Ulster Bank League Division 1B leaders when they defeated Buccaneers 29-25 with a last-move try in a thrilling Connacht derby played in glorious sunshine at Dubarry Park, Athlone, last Saturday.
‘Wegians never-say-die attitude saw them reel in a 22-0 deficit and, in the process, secure a bonus point victory over the Pirates who will be shell shocked by the manner of their collapse in this encounter.
Buccs hit the ground running and Staunton took an early hit on halfway to send Luke Satchwell racing forward where he outfoxed John Cleary to touch down for a try inside two minutes. Alan Gaughan converted before being short with a seventh minute penalty. Colin Conroy’s break for the visitors two minutes later was dealt with by Shane Layden. Diarmuid Higgins then snaffled possession following a 13th minute penalty to touch on the left and, after going through a sustained spell of good interplay, Eoghan O’Reilly raced in on the right for a try which Gaughan also converted. The home winger was soon busy defending with a tackle on Barry Lee, and O’Reilly was involved again on 23 minutes when quick hands got the ball to him wide on the left but his offload to Evan Galvin was not sufficiently precise and the young flanker knocked on. It was a real try opportunity missed.
It was virtually all one-way traffic at this stage and the westerners were forced to bring down a dangerous maul but Gaughan missed the fairly straight forward 27th minute penalty. However, the outhalf made amends four minutes later when his teasing diagonal kick was mishandled by Cleary - so often the tormentor of Buccs - and the harrying Henshaw gratefully accepted the gift to scurry in for an unconverted try in the right corner. Five minutes from half-time, referee Leo Colgan had had enough as Galwegians’ penalty count mounted and he sin-binned Brian Murphy for hands. Gaughan stroked over the penalty and Buccs were 22-0 to the good. ‘Wegians made the most of a rare home error in the opening period with Lee’s offload to Brian McClearn creating a gap for the lock to rumble through for a try in the final move of the half.
Although Aidan Moynihan did not add the conversion, this score in hindsight proved crucial. Galwegians were much more urgent and industrious on the restart as they set about retrieving a bad situation. It was now their turn to enjoy some territory and home scrumhalf Mark Dolan was sent to the sin bin on 45 minutes where he was joined by a visitors’ substitute Doran McHugh four minutes later. Kolo Kiripati put in some big hits now to keep Buccs defensive wall secure but then became the fourth visitor to the sin bin after the midlanders did not retreat 10 metres from a 55th minute Wegians penalty although the powerful Samoan was not the culprit in this incident. Moynihan’s resultant penalty was the first score of this half.
Wegians were rewarded on 64 minutes when McHugh barrelled through for a try which Conor Lowndes converted to make it 22-15 on the scoreboard. But two minutes later the prop seemed to go from hero to zero when he incurred a second yellow card and, consequently, also saw red as the Tribesmen were reduced to 14 players for the remainder of the game.
Buccs at last responded to the second-half challenge, and snipes by Dolan, Gaughan, James Tormey, and Henshaw seemed to re-establish their momentum. However, in one of these surges forward, Buccs mentors and supporters were fuming in the manner possession was wrestled from them but Lowdnes cared not a whit when he got the ball as he darted down the left flank for a 73rd minute try which he also converted to tie the scores 22-22.
This stung the Pirates and they battled back into the visitors’ danger area, spurning one penalty award against the breeze to opt for a lineout in the right corner. A second penalty soon followed and Buccs opted for a scrum, but signals were mixed up and a chance went; yet their pressure yielded a third placekick in a more favourable position with 82 minutes on the clock. Gaughan kept his composure to slot over the seemingly winning score, provided Buccs claimed possession from the restart. Despite having the extra player, they failed to do this and Galwegians punished them with a swift counter attack to the right where Conroy squeezed in for a bonus point try in the corner. This was the first time in the match that the visitors’ led and, with the last kick of the match, Lowndes rubbed salt in home wounds with a splendid conversion to complete an amazing comeback and seal a memorable 29-25 victory that looked highly unlikely for most of the joust.