Buccaneers defeated Galwegians 28-14 in a lively Connacht Senior Cup final played at Galway Sportsground last Sunday. Buccs were full value for their double score victory played on a cool but mainly bright afternoon in front of a modest attendance. Both squads did not have the use of contracted players, but the teams put in a committed, absorbing, and entertaining battle for the coveted trophy which makes a long overdue return to the Midlands.
‘Wegians forced the early pace and territory until Callum Boland struck a magnificent penalty from his own 22 to deep into the Tribesmens’ 22. From the lineout, Buccs got their maul going and, with the referee playing advantage, Stephen McVeigh crashed over for a 15 minute try which Boland converted.
Galwegians got a quick opportunity to reply, but a penalty kick for the corner did not find touch and soon Buccs were back on the offensive as Boland landed a fine 11th minute penalty after the westerners infringed at a lineout. ‘Wegians response to this score was much more effective, Jerome Harimate and John Cleary countering at pace on the right before the ball was switched crossfield where Doran McHugh powered over for a 15th minute unconverted try. 10-5 to the challengers.
Just before the end of the opening quarter, Rory O’Connor made a mazy run before off-loading to McVeigh who knocked on in the left corner. The Pirates forced a penalty at the ensuing scrum; Boland tapped into touch and, after clean lineout possession was secured, the Buccs pack again mauled impressively over the holders’ line where Scott Flanagan applied the finishing touch for a try. Boland was unable to convert from wide on the left, his only miss of the final.
The game was ebbing and flowing at a good pace and Cleary found a promising touch in the left corner after 25 minutes. Buccs knocked on at the lineout and then had to withstand a series of five-metre scrums before a thumping Billy Henshaw tackle stemmed the tide. Eight minutes later, David Butler turned over possession from his former teammates and sent Eoghan O’Reilly scurrying forward before kicking ahead. The ‘Wegians defence won the chase to avert danger but then, in attempting a swift restart, they knocked on, gifting possession back to Buccs who got the ball away smartly from the resultant scrum. Mark Dolan, Alex Hayman and Butler all combined to send O’Connor in for a 33rd minute try which Boland converted for a 22-5 half-time lead.
Conor Lowndes dropped a neat goal for Galwegians three minutes after the restart and then prop Martin Staunton was sin-binned on 46 minutes as Buccs struggled at a scrum following a very debatable knock-on decision. Lowndes slotted over the penalty and Ross Shaughnessy dropped a tidy 53rd minute goal to reduce the holders’ arrears to 22-14. When James Tormey was yellow-carded two minutes later for obstruction, fears of a Buccs slump from a similar half-time lead in the Ulster Bank League meeting between these rivals were rising.
Butler made good ground on the hour mark and Wegians infringed on the ground with Boland landing a decent 61st minute penalty against the elements. This rejuvenated the Athlone outfit and Henshaw was alert to a Cleary grubber kick. Buccs took control in the final quarter and Galwegians were a shade fortunate that their efforts to deny the Pirates quick ball did not incur a yellow card until the 72nd minute when replacement Ronan Moore was binned just two minutes after his introduction. Buccs continued to attack with intent with Kolo Kiripati and Paul Gallogly driving forward and Butler and Hayman willing to take on ball while O’Connor was deemed to knock on in the tackle as he sought his second try. Boland sealed the issue with a late penalty, a lovely strike from the 22, to complete the 28-14 winning margin and secure a first Senior Cup triumph since 2007.
This was an excellent effort by Buccs with the backline looking eager and sharp. Boland made a terrific contribution although playing out of position at stand-off. His half-back partner Dolan too had a notable influence and centre Butler surely relished the occasion. The pack, although having difficulties at scrum time, stuck manfully to the task on hand and looked the more mobile and purposeful unit. Blindside flanker McVeigh put in a man of the match performance and another youngster hooker Flanagan acquitted himself well. Long-time stalwart Keith Grehan also savoured this contest, the prop coming on as a second-half replacement for his first senior appearance. Harimate and Cleary were Galwegians’ main threat but their forwards did not win sufficient clean possession to capitalise on this.