Buccaneers endured another torrid outing in their final Ulster Bank League Division 1B fixture of the season when soundly walloped 45-0 by Ballymena at Eaton Park, on Saturday. The Pirates were well and truly sunk on the banks of the Braid by a pacier, sharper, and much better organised home side. For the second successive match, Buccs failed to score during another disappointing display.
Alan Gaughan was an injury absentee for this game and illness also ruled out Luke Satchwell shortly before kickoff, while the match was still in its infancy when Jacob Walshe sustained a shoulder injury forcing his withdrawal. Scott Flanagan, Martin Staunton, Eoghan O’Reilly, and Rory Moloney were other changes to the starting XV from the defeat to UL Bohemian. Ballymena were bolstered by the inclusion of Ulster regulars Ricky Andrew and Mike McComish, both of whom were hugely influential.
Having bounced straight back up following their relegation the previous season, Ballymena’s goal of consolidation was already achieved and they were secure in a commendable fourth place. Buccs’ form was immensely frustrating and, since the new year in particular, the Pirates’ ship has been shipping too much water and slipping down the league table. Nevertheless, the game commenced at a brisk tempo, but despite playing with the aid of a significant breeze the midlanders were unable to make any sustained incursions into home territory. Indeed it was Ballymena who dictated the majority possession and territory on a mainly dry and sunny afternoon.
They opened the scoring on 13 minutes with a well-taken Martin Irwin try converted by Richard McMaster. A flurry of hailstones made handling tricky before Shane Layden made a terrific break nine minutes later and this led to an eminently kickable penalty on the home 22, straight in front of the posts. Buccs should have taken the points, but a tap-and-go possession was soon turned over. The visitors really needed to get a score - instead, they went further behind just three minutes later when good hands following solid ground made by Connor Smyth was finished off by Darrell Montgomery for an unconverted try.
Either side of the half-hour mark, Alex Hayman and Callum Boland were both unlucky not to hold on to attempted intercepts in the now greasy conditions and Buccs were still in the contest at half-time when they trailed 0-12. Within three minutes of the change of ends, Ballymena grabbed their third try when hooker John Andrew’s pass to his brother Ricky split the visitors’ defence and the Braidmen’s full-back ghosted through for a try at the posts. McMaster added the conversion. The busy O’Reilly did well to get across to a teasing Ballymena kick ahead, but following his clearance to touch, the hosts drove over after the lineout and Paddy James applied the finishing touch for the bonus-point try, doubling the interval advantage to 24-0 after 50 minutes.
Seven minutes later, lock Smyth again thundered forward and ensured another home try with a neat offload to Dominic Gallagher-McMaster duly converted. Boland down the right flank and David Butler through the centre made promising Buccs raids that yielded no reward. Ballymena were more efficient and ruthless when opportunities arose. Ricky Andrew found a mighty touch on the left and, when Buccs lost possession after the lineout, flanker Gallagher outfoxed the cover to dart in for a try which Jordan Foster converted via an upright. Winger Foster then completed the scoring when he finished off a lightening counter-attack to run in unopposed at the posts for a try which he also converted to make it 45-0.
To their credit, Buccs continued to battle and came close to scoring in either corner late in the game. Even at that stage, the northerners’ committed defence was not prepared to concede and McComish incurred a 76th-minute yellow card for persistent infringing as the Pirates attacked in search of an elusive consolation score. Ricky Andrew, Gallagher, Smyth, and his veteran second-row partner Ian Caldwell dictated matters for the winners. The rudderless Pirates were lightweight in a number of positions and could not get any real continuity going in their endeavours. O’Reilly, Saba Meunargia, and Martin Staunton did their utmost for the cause but the end of the game and indeed the season could not come quickly enough for Buccaneers. The season really fizzled away, with Buccs finishing in seventh place and conceding 204 points in the last five matches. All will welcome the time to recharge, refocus, and return for next season.