Buccaneers completed their fifth Connacht Senior League and Cup double when they overcame Corinthians 17-10 in a well-contested Cup final at Corinthian Park, Clounacauneen, Galway, on Friday night (January 6 ).
Buccs were the stronger outfit overall but were forced to work hard until the very last moment before being assured victory in testing conditions. The Pirates seemed to get a bit lost in the fog against dogged opponents and they also looked somewhat ring-rusty following the festive break in front of a decent attendance.
Stephen McVeigh and Saba Meunargia returned after injury for the Athlone side, while Cian Romaine and Rory Moloney were also included in their pack. Other young guns Luke Carty, Conor McKeon, and Jordan Conroy started in Buccs backline. Stephen Kerins lined out at scrumhalf with Ger O’Connor on the bench for the homesters, who had the Keller brothers Simon and Ross in their backline. Lise Soloa, Craig Hansberry, and Sean Masterson were key figures among Corinthians forwards, where Pat O’Toole started at blindside flanker ahead of Sean Connolly.
Aided by the light breeze, the Galway side settled quickly to the task on hand, helped by a straightforward second minute penalty stroked over by Simon Keller. Buccs too had an early penalty opportunity, but their effort for touch was overhit as they took a long time to get into anything near their recent form. However, they grabbed the lead after a quarter of an hour when Alan Gaughan capitalised on a knock-on near halfway to boot the ball upfield. Following his grubber kick ahead, he held off Kerins to ground the ball for an opportunist try before adding the conversion from right of the posts.
However, the Midlanders failed to build on this as Corinthians continued to dominate possession, albeit rarely threatening the Buccs line. But they finally managed to prise the visitors’ defence open on 29 minutes when some sustained play got the ball from right to left where Owen Daly got in for a try. Simon Keller added a splendid conversion from near the touchline to give Corinthians a 10-7 advantage that they deserved at half time.
With the fog lifting for a period and the elements now in their favour, Buccs piled forward with greater intent following the change of ends. They camped in the home 22 for the third quarter but errors and lack of precision and composure allied to some staunch Corinthians defending ensured Buccs still trailed at the three-quarters stage.
The creaking hosts had shipped a lot of knocks in the opening half and it seemed only a matter of time before the visitors would also take command on the scoreboard. But Moloney knocked on in one promising situation while McKeon surprisingly dropped the ball soon afterwards when a try seemed inevitable.
But the pressure was eventually rewarded following a powerful scrum by the Pirates, when McKeon popped the ball to Romaine and the imposing lock thundered through for a 65th minute try converted by Gaughan.
Buccaneers added to their slender lead 10 minutes later when their pack drove Corinthians back at scrum-time and Gaughan duly slotted over the resulting penalty via an upright to complete the 17-10 scoreline.
The Tribesmen made a few belated sallies into the Shannonsiders’ territory culminating in a maul that took them tantalisingly close to the Buccs line, but they just could not fashion the try necessary to send the match into extra time.
Overall, it was not one of the Pirates’ better displays this season, with Mata Fifita perhaps their only player to approach his potential against spirited opponents who looked the more interested outfit. Although more powerful and physical, Buccs never really got moving as they can, yet the Athlone standard bearers will not care one whit as they completed a Senior Cup and League double last recorded by the club 10 years ago.