Buccaneers retained their Connacht Senior League title with a solid 34-10 victory over Galwegians at Dubarry Park on Saturday.
The exchanges between these great rivals were relatively even in the first half but the Pirates sailed home after the change of ends for a richly merited win in a game played in near ideal conditions. This was a much more positive Buccs performance on an afternoon when the rain stayed away for the duration of the match.
Buccs made six changes from the side that faced Sligo, four of them in the backline where Conor McKeon and Alan Gaughan teamed up at halfback. Shane Layden and debutant Danie Poolman formed a new partnership in the centre, while Martin Staunton and Shane Delahunt started in the front row, the latter for his first appearance of the campaign. Galwegians also had an interesting pairing at halfback in Rory Parata and recent Bucc Conor Lowndes, with Ed O’Keeffe on the wing. Conor Carey, Anthony Ryan, and Josh Pim held key roles in their pack.
Chances were scarce in the opening quarter. Wegians were enjoying the better territory, but Buccs opened the scoring when Gaughan landed a fine penalty from the 10 metre line after 25 minutes. However, the Midlanders gradually gained the upper hand, but Gaughan was unable to add another long-range penalty five minutes later.
He did find an excellent penalty to touch on the right after 35 minutes and, following good lineout possession won by Ruairi Byrne, Buccs moved the ball infield where the referee played intelligent advantage after a high tackle and Rory O’Connor did what he does best, scooting in for a try near the posts. Gaughan’s conversion gave Buccs a slightly flattering 10-0 advantage at the interval.
Both teams realigned their forces at the break. Barry Lee replaced the injured Parata, with Brian Murphy moving to fly-half and Jason East came on for Dom McCoy-Robertson in the visitors’ ranks. Buccs brought in Luke Carty at stand-off, with Gaughan moving into the thee-quarters line and Layden manning the full-back berth. The light blues made the early running on the resumption, with Leavy making a couple of promising surges in quick succession. Wegians finally opened their account when Lowndes landed a fine penalty from near half-way.
But, before the westerners had any chance to build on this, Buccs scored straight from the restart when Jordan Conroy smartly claimed possession and then wrong-footed the defence for an unconverted try on the left. Then, O’Connor made a terrific run and chip down the right flank but the ball hopped unkindly away from the winger and Wegians escaped, but not for long. Carty made a splendid snipe that was carried on by Kolo Kiripati to keep the visitors on the back foot on their own 22. Possession came to John Sutton who darted away unchallenged for a 55th-minute unconverted try wide on the right.
Buccs were the much more urgent and enterprising outfit at this stage and their quick chasing pressurised Wegians into errors. From one of these, Poolman fastened onto a loose ball some 35 metres out and powered through for a bonus point 63rd minute try between the uprights. Gaughan’s conversion stretched Buccs lead to 27-3.
Five minutes later, O’Connor, Layden and Poolman combined in an exciting move that ultimately came to nought. Conroy then had to be alert and swift at the other end to put in a good tackle to deny O’Keeffe’s progress. Leavy, Galwegians’ most exciting player on the day, got some deserved reward for his endeavours when he surged through for a 70th-minute try between the posts, with Lowndes adding the conversion.
Five minutes from time, Pim made a promising break for the visitors, but Gaughan intercepted on his own 10 metre line to race away for a fifth Buccaneers try. He completed the 34-10 winning margin with the conversion.
Buccs proved worthy winners as they retained the Connacht Senior League title and both the win and performance will instil confidence and self-belief in the squad ahead of Saturday week’s All-Ireland League kick-off away to Ballynahinch. This was a composed all-round effort by the Athlone side with Saba Meunargia, Sutton (operating at flanker ), McKeon, and O’Connor all catching the eye.