Buccaneers can clinch the Connacht Senior League title by beating Sligo at Hamilton Park on Saturday afternoon; kick off 2.30pm.
A promising Buccs outfit are in pole position, but must not take anything for granted against the North-Westerners who will surely provide dogged opposition on their own ground where they overcame Corinthians 25-19 last Friday. The home players will be boosted by that victory and will also be keen to impress new coach Peter Bracken prior to the AIL kick-off.
But Buccs have been in sparkling form so far - even if both Corinthians and Galwegians did not rise to expectations, and the chief worry for a mainly youthful Pirates side could be complacency. Coach Brett Wilkinson will surely curb that and keep his crew focussed on the task on hand as Buccaneers seek a first Senior League title since 2007. A revamped Buccs look to be on the right track and they look a formidable unit in the making.
Buccs enjoyed an emphatic 73-17 Connacht Senior League victory over champions Galwegians in front of a decent attendance at Dubarry Park, Athlone last Saturday. While the new coaching triumvirate made just one alteration in the home backline, they continued to cast their eye over their charges and they made six changes in personnel to the pack.
Nevertheless, inspired by their opening day win at Corinthians, a youthful Pirates crew came flying out of the blocks against a more robust-looking visiting outfit and they swiftly signalled their intent to lead 10-0 within a mere three minutes. Conor McKeon calmly dropped a goal in the opening minute and, within moments of the restart, the outhalf was converting Alan Gaughan’s try after the centre outpaced the Wegians defence on the right flank.
Buccs showed commendable character by rebounding from a pair of setbacks after Evan Galvin was forced off with a serious-looking knee injury just before the visitors’ pack mauled over for a 10th-minute try by Paddy Finn.
Then Kolo Kiripati burst away for a converted try to put Buccs 17-5 ahead. Shortly afterwards, the Midlanders had to show their defensive qualities when holding out the light blues close to the home line.
Kiripati, Graham Lynch, Stephen McVeigh and Shane Delahunt rampaged down the left flank just after the half-hour mark and, when the ball was transferred smartly to the opposite wing, Rory O’Connor showed pace to skate through for a 32nd-minute try.
O’Connor grabbed his second try just six minutes later when he finished off more fine interplay by Buccs who promptly added a fifth try in the final move of the half. McKeon was the architect and finisher on this occasion as his improvised grubber kick wrong-footed the Wegians cover and the fly-half darted through to touchdown at the posts. He converted all first-half tries to give Buccaneers a commanding 38-5 advantage at the interval.
Buccs ensured there would be no repeat of last season’s second-half meltdown against the same opposition in the AIL when Harry Hughes finished off further enterprising play from side to side with a 44th minute try in the left corner. Wegians’ strongest weapon was their maul, which they did not make enough use of, but they put it to telling effect when replying with a 54th-minute Doran McHugh pushover try converted by Aidan Moynihan, to leave the score 45-12 in favour of Buccs.
The Westerners enjoyed a brief period of pressure after this score but, just before the hour mark, the alert Gaughan fastened on to an over-ambitious floated pass inside the home 22 and the Buccs centre raced 80 metres for the killer try. Wegians responded with their best move of the match that yielded an unconverted 63rd-minute try by David Symes. Buccs then showed that they too could maul effectively as Scott Flanagan finished off a 67th-minute drive for a try on the left and a 59-17 lead.
In the 71st minute Ben Carty and McKeon gathered possession near half-way and the latter had the nous and pace to dash away for a try under the posts. Darin Claasen made a late brief debut, but he had time to send Gaughan scampering away to complete his hat-trick of tries just before the final whistle. McKeon maintained his flawless place-kicking, converting all 10 in his stunning tally of 33 points, to complete the 73-17 rout that amazed the supporters of both clubs.
Buccaneers were highly impressive, their slick high tempo movement and quick support play leaving the visitors to chase shadows. The winners’ tackling, resolve, and attitude too were exemplary and they enthusiastically turned over possession from a heftier Wegians pack on a consistent basis. There is an encouraging focus, purpose, and verve about Buccs play that holds promises for tougher tests ahead. Galwegians will point to absentees, notably in their backline, but they clearly have more work to do before the AIL commences.