Buccaneers welcome high-flying Ballymena to Dubarry Park for Saturday’s Ulster Bank League Division 1B game which kicks off at 2.30 p.m. Ballymena were relegated the season before last, but promptly secured promotion back to 1B where they have been in the leading pack since the start of this season.
The Braidmen have a formidable pack, one of the biggest in the AIL, with a very competitive back row featuring Ulster duo Mike McComish and Clive Ross (brother of Ireland’s Mike ) while Stephen Mulholland has been very consistent at No 8 Bryan Young, Dave Ryan, and Adrian Kirkpatrick are very experienced front-rowers and Connor Smyth is solid at lock. Tim Small is proving immensely versatile in the Northerners backline and also contributes a lot of scores. Sean Taylor and Paddy James are two more backs to keep an eye on although highly-rated scrumhalf David Shanahan may this game through injury.
Injury rules out Alan Gaughan and Diarmuid Higgins for the Pirates who will look for a more sustained team performance overall. Buccs’ inconsistency has been puzzling so far particularly at home but they have the potential to move further up the league table. This could be an acid test for the Midlanders as they strive to keep in touch with the table toppers. Decision-making and execution must be precise and more patience may be called for.
Ballymena made a bright start to the league including an away win over leaders Galwegians, but lost twice recently to Malone and Garryowen before whipping Shannon, who had a player sent off in the opening 10 minutes. The Ulster side lost last weekend, again to Malone in the Ulster Cup semi-final, and if Buccs play to their strengths, then they can fashion a win in what could well be a lively tussle.
Buccaneers women renew their rivalry with Castlebar in the final of the Connacht Womens Development League which takes place in Ballyhaunis on Sunday.
Both teams are worthy finalists, each having lost just one league match en route to this decider. The Mayo side topped the league by a solitary point as both clubs lost just the away games against each other. So it is likely to be a very tight affair with little between the squads. However, Buccs responded in the best possible way to their recent loss in Castlebar by securing a convincing win in a tricky assignment away to NUIG.
Buccs can always be counted on to give of their best and be committed to the very end. They have some doughty warriors in their pack, none more so than Mele Kiripati and Emer Phelan. Aislinn Kelleher, Tina Kiernan, and Antoinette Kemmy are good forwards while Tracey Finnerty, Lorna Stuart-Trainor, and Katie Bradley will not shirk the physical exchanges.
Despite the long-term absence of Niamh Ní Dhroma, there is still a potency in the backline where newcomers Fabienne Cooney, Deirdre Farrell, and Emma O’Brien add pace and a footballing nous. Michelle Reynolds, Niamh Gough, and Sandra Griffin are ever willing to make a break as is Colette McSpadden, whose place-kicking is also a real threat to the opposition. Hazel Kilduff will be hoping to be fit for this decider while Christine Mannion, Kathryn Downey, Blathnaid Casserly, Mairead Devaney, Donna Cromar, Maia Babalon, Kelley Hynes, Sharon Hynes, Michelle Jinks, Emer Connellan, Katie Henshaw, and Gina Goldrick are others just itching to be involved. If the Buccaneers girls are not phased by the occasion and hit the form they are well capable of, then they may prove too hot to handle.