BUCCANEERS 10 GALWEGIANS 27
Galwegians extracted revenge for losing their Connacht Senior League title by wrestling the Connacht Senior Cup crown from Buccaneers by a 27-10 margin in the final played at Crowley Park last Friday night (December 18 ).
Both teams were heavily depleted due to the unavailability of Connacht players committed to provincial duties. The Pirates were also short due to injuries with Kolo Kiripati, Alan Gaughan, Ben Carwwty, and Eoghan O’Reilly among those also missing from their crew, while Garreth Halligan was unavailable too.
Alex Hayman, Martin Staunton, Callum Boland, Michael Mannion, and Rory O’Connor were the more familiar names on a Midlanders’ teamsheet that contained many youngsters. On home soil, Wegians looked to John Cleary, Ja Naughton, Brian Murphy, Dave Clarke, and Anthony Ryan for leadership in front of a modest attendance.
From the outset, Galwegians went on the attack with ball in hand but Buccaneers, playing into the strong wind, were aggressive in defence. An early penalty award to the homesters saw Clarke’s kick open the scoring. Buccs responded positively and, some 10 minutes into the proceedings, after a number of phases with the ball transferred through the hands, possession came to O’Connor on the left. His electric pace from 20 metres easily breached the defensive cover for an unconverted try.
The light blues were slow to settle and over-anxious in their passing, causing a lot of mishandled ball. Clarke was replaced early due to injury, with Murphy moving to outhalf and his position filled by Joe Connolly. At this stage, Wegians used the wind frequently to bombard the Athlone side’s back three with a succession of garryowens, a tactic that was unrewarded for the main part. However, the visitors’ defence was eventually breached when Alan McMahon evaded two Buccs defenders on his way for an unconverted try wide on the right.
Cleary, who not for the first time proved a constant thorn in the visitors’ side, eluded all efforts to bring him down before he dotted down for a 25th-minute try which he also converted for a 15-5 lead. Buccaneers then lost O’Connor to a nasty head wound on 35 minutes, but shortly afterwards his replacement Harry Hughes caught a bouncing ball on halfway. Hughes kept his composure to scamper through for an unconverted try on the right which narrowed the Shannonsiders’ arrears to 15-10 at half time.
Although Conor Lowndes replaced Graham Lynch at the break, it was Galwegians who went on the offensive straight from the resumption and Murphy broke through for an unconverted try on the right. Shortly afterwards, Evan Galvin’s tackle on the line prevented an almost certain home try as he forced the ball to be spilled in the act of touching down.
So, although Buccs now had the wind, it was the home side who kept asking serious questions. Unlike the holders, they were playing in their opponents’ half and putting on lots of pressure. Eventually this pressure told and Murphy scored his second try to the left of the posts after some weak tackling enroute. Cleary’s conversion completed the 27-10 scoreline.
James Tormey made a welcome return to the senior fold for the final quarter, but apart from two line-breaks by Hayman near the end which fizzled out due to lack of support, Buccaneers’ challenge had also by now run its course. Even though the scoreline does not say much in Buccs’ favour, they were playing against a side who were stronger in the scrum and physically bigger also in many key areas. Had their tackling and handling been crisper and more consistent, this would have been a tighter affair.
Even so, many of the young Pirates players can take heart and benefit from the experience of playing a team with greater exposure and who were operating on home turf. Absentees probably had a greater impact on the Athlone outfit too. The back row trio were active in a containment manner and will prosper from this encounter. Hooker Scott Flanagan is gaining in ability and was prominent throughout.
Staunton and Mannion were best in the early exchanges and Rory Grenham manfully survived his newer role in the loose-head berth. O’Connor’s finishing ability was missed considerably when he was forced off, but Hayman and Boland were as reliable as ever as was Darin Claasen. In the circumstances, the final margin did not flatter Galwegians, but this game can also be seen as beneficial to Buccaneers who stacked up useful playing time for younger players, some of whom can surely be stars of the future.