Despite the stiff and swirling chilly breeze, a decent crowd attended in Crowley Park where Galwegians came from behind for a thoroughly deserved 12-6 victory over Buccaneers to maintain their one point advantage on the leaderboard of Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League.
Both sides had changes from the previous month’s Connacht Senior Cup final in which Buccs prevailed. The Midlanders’ pack underwent an enforced near total transformation including the absence of their Ireland u20s Rory Moloney and Stephen McVeigh as well as the non-availability of Danny Qualter and Mata Fifita. The Connacht absentees hit the Pirates much harder than their opponents and had a key bearing on the trend of this contest.
Buccs had first benefit of the breeze and got a near immediate opportunity to open the scoring, but Callum Boland scuffed a kickable penalty attempt. Galwegians then had a 10th minute penalty, but Andrew Moynihan was off-target. At this stage, the Midlanders were feeling early pressure in the scrum facing the bulky home unit. Both sides made positive efforts to run the ball as they each counter-attacked at pace.
Approaching the end of the first quarter, Buccs opened the scoring when Alan Gaughan slotted over a fine penalty from near the touchline. For Galwegians John Cleary was probing at every opportunity while Caolin Blade was equally dangerous. Home loosehead prop Jarlath Naughton was sin-binned on the half-hour mark for a breakdown infringement before a Gaughan penalty edged the visitors’ 6-0 ahead approaching the interval. David Butler put in a tremendous piece of work to deny his previous club a try just before half-time to keep Buccs six points to the good at the break.
On the restart, Galwegians pressed forward with their dominance in the tight causing worry to the visiting supporters. They kept Buccs penned deep in their own half and Billy Henshaw incurred a harsh sin-binning for a perceived careless tackle when the Buccs’ wing was pushed from behind. Eventually the pressure told and Blade’s sniping run sent Rory Parata in for a try on the left with Moynihan adding a fine conversion to put the westerners 7-6 ahead.
Shane Layden, one of Buccs most effective attackers, was steady all night under the high ball, but he incurred a yellow card for a deliberate knock on. Cumulative cracks were now appearing as a result of home pressure and dwindling Buccs resources. Shortly after the hour mark, substitute Gary O’Brien broke through on the right for an unconverted try and a 12-6 advantage. Moynihan missed another penalty effort that left the margin delicately balanced but, in truth, Buccs could never make any real headway out of their own territory in the second half.
Galwegians eventually recorded a league double over their Connacht rivals and, while the winning margin should really have been far more comfortable, they have regained their momentum to maintain their position on top of the table as the league approaches the finishing straight. Buccs aspirations of a fourth successive top four finish are now all but expired. However, the gritty manner of salvaging a losing bonus point will stand them to good stead as they prepare for the forthcoming Bateman Cup semi-final joust at home to Cork Constitution. Hopefully Buccs will have a stronger panel available to them. Debutant Ronan Farrell was Buccs’ liveliest performer in the forwards exchanges with Jacob Walshe, Luke Satchwell, Shane Delahunt, and Kolo Kiripati all battling earnestly. Mark Dolan and Layden were best of the backline in which Butler (until injured ) and Gaughan were very committed in a mainly defensive operation.