A physically stronger and more cohesive NUIG-Corinthians defeated Buccaneers 35-15 in the final of the Connacht u20 Cup at the Sportsground on Sunday.
The Galway combination had more aces in their pack against a willing Pirates crew, who battled to the bitter end, but were always in trouble.
With out-half Graham Lynch and scrumhalf Ricky Dixon out through injury, Charlie McMickan was switched to fly-half and Patrick Browne started at number nine. Lock Conall O’Brien was unavailable with prop Ryan O’Meara moving to the second row and Cillian Walsh returning to the front row after illness.
NUIG-Corinthians were quick to apply pressure - following a five-metre scrum, the ball was smartly popped to David O’Mahoney for a fifth-minute try in the right corner. Dwayne Corcoran judged his conversion perfectly to put the challengers 7-0 ahead.
Buccs showed their promise four minutes later when Thomas Finucane made a good surge to link up with Harry Hughes, who could not get to his own chip ahead. The Buccs scrum was in real bother in the first half and, following a set-piece on the left, NUIG-Corinthians put the ball through hands left to right where Conor O’Sullivan dotted down for a 19th-minute try with Corcoran again adding the conversion to make it 14-0.
Buccs tackling for both tries lacked the necessary intent, but they were finally getting improved possession and territory earning a 23rd-minute penalty, but McMickan’s placekick from the left went wide. Three minutes later, Finucane made another typical burst and off-loaded to Sean Doyle, but Hughes knocked the full-back’s pass on and a real try chance was spurned. Buccs opened their account with a 28th-minute McMickan penalty earned by the foraging of Evan Galvin.
The Pirates realigned their backline at this stage with McMickan switching to scrumhalf, Doyle to standoff, Hughes at fullback and Bobby Pears coming in on the wing with Browne being withdrawn. Brian Gilligan was to the forefront of some spirited Buccs attacking in the closing stages of the half, but the Athlone side was unable to breach staunch covering by the Tribesmen despite tapping a number of close-in penalties and thus they trailed 14-3 at the interval.
Buccs set-piece troubles continued after the change of ends and they were forced back over their own goal line where they tried to play their way out of danger, but Craig Hansberry snaffled possession to swoop for a soft 44th-minute try just to the right of the posts that really deflated the Pirates. Corcoran stretched his side’s advantage to 21-3. Finucane’s strong running was finally rewarded on 56 minutes when he finished off his side’s best play of the game for a well-taken try on the right, but McMickan could not add the conversion.
Then Ross Flanagan erred from the restart allowing the ball to hop over him into touch inside Buccs’ 22. NUIG-Corinthians, through towering locks Thomas Feegan and Peter Claffey, absolutely lorded the lineouts from start to finish, and not for the first time they won a Buccs throw to set up Daniel Trayers’ 59th-minute try. Corcoran continued his unerring place-kicking with the conversion to stretch the Galway side’s lead to 28-8.
Buccaneers continued to battle and James Foley’s unflinching efforts set a good attack in motion with Pears making ground down the left where Doyle was up in support to apply the finishing touch for a 70th-minute try. McMickan’s fine conversion narrowed the arrears to 28-15, but NUIG-Corinthians had an instant riposte when substitute Evans thundered through a trio of tacklers to set up a 73rd-minute try on the left for Roy Stanley. Corcoran maintained his 100 per cent success rate with his fifth conversion.
Buccaneers sorely missed their regular half-back pairing and they would surely have been a much more forceful unit had they had their trio of Ireland u20 internationals in the pack where they simply lacked the power and bulk of their opponents. Buccs’ scrum did improve as the game progressed, but they were blitzed at lineout time. Foley, Galvin, Finucane, and Gilligan did their utmost for Buccs while Claffey, Trayers, Corcoran, and Evans were most influential for the winners.