Cork Constitution qualified for their third successive Bateman Cup final when defeating Buccaneers 36-25 at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. However, the holders were pushed all the way by the Pirates, who refused to give up on their dream until the final whistle of a lively and entertaining All-Ireland semi-final that warranted a much greater attendance. Cork Con scored five tries, but received a fright from a committed and sustained Buccs effort.
Cork Con arrived with a more or less settled squad apart from injured scrumhalf Gerry Hurley whilst they rejigged their second and back rows in the pack. Buccs had just David Heffernan and Danny Qualter available from Connacht. The physical presence of Kolo Kiripati was also missed.
Buccs took the game to the favourites and, following a smashing break by David Heffernan, Alan Gaughan strode in for a 10th-minute try which he also converted. Cork Con levelled at the end of the opening quarter, Michael Keyes’ offload sending Robert Jermyn in for a 19th-minute try converted by Quinlan. Luke Satchwell made a terrific 36th-minute break for Buccs who were unlucky when his pass to Ronan Farrell was a shade too firm and not held with the try-line beckoning in a fast-flowing contest. Nevertheless, this led to a promising close-in lineout for the home side but the throw was overcooked and Max Abbott surged forward to midfield and the length of field counter-attack was finished off by Niall Kenneally for a try which Quinlan converted to give Cork Con a fortuitous 14-10 lead at half-time.
Within a minute of the restart, the visitors grabbed their third try, taken acrobatically by Darren Sweetnam following a deft chip over the cover by Quinlan who added the conversion. The slick outhalf dropped a fine 48th-minute goal to which Gaughan replied with a penalty three minutes later to leave Cork Con 24-13 ahead. Two tries in quick succession by Darragh Lyons (59 minutes ) and Alan Ross (62 minutes ), with Lyons converting the latter score, gave the holders a flattering 36-13 advantage.
Although a Gaughan penalty did not find touch, Cork Con failed to deal with it and the Athlone side now drove forward, but hooker Heffernan was somehow held up on the visitors’ line. However, Martin Staunton powered over for a 76th-minute try, Gaughan’s conversion kick tailing just wide.
Alex Hayman got due reward for his endeavours when he stormed through for Buccaneers’ third try in the closing moments. Gaughan’s conversion completed the 36-25 scoreline as Cork Con advanced to face Clontarf in the final. This was a vastly improved display by Buccaneers, who were not overawed by the occasion or the opposition.