Buccaneers and Galwegians have the Ulster Bank League limelight all to themselves this weekend when they square up in a floodlit Connacht derby at Dubarry Park on Friday night, kick off at 7.30pm.
Buccs will be warm favourites for this tie, having defeated the westerners 34-10 to retain their Connacht Senior League title in early September. Wegians are, surprisingly, languishing third from bottom of Division 1B with just one victory to their credit. However, a brief look at their results will show that most of their defeats were by narrow margins. Indeed, they have accumulated losing bonus points in four of their six defeats, whilst also recording try bonus points on a similar number of occasions.
Their Achilles heel appears to be letting matches slip from winning positions, most notably their two most recent outings when they led Ballynahinch 14-0 early on two games ago and fared better against Ballymena last time out when taking the lead on a number of occasions, but losing both home games to late penalties. Discipline and concentration seem to be bugbears for the light blues. However, local bragging rights and rivalry will certainly focus their minds come for the impending Buccs encounter.
Galwegians backline is enterprising especially when Rory Parata, Adam Leavy, Ed O’Keeffe and Aidan Moynihan are involved. Mitch Lam, son of Connacht coach Pat, directs operations at fly-half and is also a fine placekicker, while wily centre Brian Murphy skippers the side. Versatile Conor Lowndes is another back who will be well familiar to the Dubarry Park faithful. Their pack has chopped and changed so far with players like Marc Kelly and Jack Dineen performing in a variety of positions. Conan O’Donnell, Jason East, Anthony Ryan and Ronan Moore are competitive forwards who will put it up to Buccs from start to finish.
Buccs too have had to contend with regular changes in personnel for a variety of reasons, but they have nevertheless succeeded in building momentum and becoming slicker as the season has progressed. The Athlone side has the joint highest ‘points for’ tally in all five divisions and Buccs scoring rate has been phenomenal in recent outings, but there is a splendid mix of controlled aggression and zip in their collective displays. The Pirates pose a threat in all sectors.
Jordan Conroy, Eoghan O’Reilly and Alan Gaughan may be attracting most of the kudos through their scoring exploits but Mata Fifita is a key cog in that exciting backline where Shane Layden, Conor McKeon and Danie Poolman can also do real damage to the opposition. Graham Lynch and Luke Carty are growing in their contributions while Rory O’Connor is well capable of adding to his try scoring feats.
Buccs injury concerns are Kolo Kiripati and Stephen McVeigh, but Rory Moloney could be ready to return. Danny Qualter and Martin Staunton have been quietly, but efficiently going about their business so far, while the returns after injury of Cian Romaine and Saba Meunargia last week added great strength and bulk to the pack. John Sutton and Evan Galvin have been excellent, while Ruairi Byrne and Rory Grenham have not been found wanting when called into action.
Simon Meagher and Eoghan Maher have both made smooth transitions to the Firsts squad, so Brett Wilkinson seems to have strong options in all departments as the league approaches the halfway break. The two Shanes - Delahunt and O’Leary - are others who could make serious impacts if available for this derby, which is Buccaneers final home game until the end of January. Overall, the Athlone side seem to possess the better balance and greater options.
Derby games can go any way and Buccs will be wise to be wary of Galwegians. However, if they play with the focus and application, intensity and enterprise that they are capable of, then Buccaneers can forge a seventh straight victory.