Despite another spirited and committed showing, Buccaneers went down 22-10 to Garryowen in their Ulster Bank League Division 1A match at Dubarry Park last Saturday.
Victory for the Limerick side keeps them in the top four ahead of next week’s final round of fixtures, but defeat means The Pirates sink back to Division 1B, which they won in such exhilarating style last season.
Buccaneers made just two changes for this match. Jordan Conroy made his first home appearance of the season, with Callum Boland switching to centre in place of the injured Rory Scholes. Simon Meagher returned after injury to the second row, with Ruairi Byrne on the bench.
Garryowen had the luxury of their returning Munster A players as they made five changes. The immensely promising Bill Johnston was preferred at out-half to Jamie Gavin, while the former’s brother David was replaced by Hugh O’Brien-Cunningham in the centre. Diarmuid Barron, who scored two tries when introduced at Clontarf, got the nod at hooker, with Tim Ferguson and Sean Rennison restored to the back row.
The Limerick side set the pace and manner of this Glenroyal Hotel sponsored tie played on a dull but mild afternoon with little breeze. The visitors opened the scoring following a series of pick and goes through a 16th minute Neil Cronin penalty. But Buccs struck back within three minutes. Last season’s leading try scorer in the AIL, Conroy streaked away for a stunning try, showing the firepower that has been greatly missed by the Athlone club in his absence this season. Conor McKeon converted for a 7-3 lead.
Following a brief but unmerciful hailstones deluge, Garryowen regained the lead after 32 minutes. Luke Carty scrambled back to go down on a ball close to the home line and Garryowen’s Liam Coombes was all over the home full-back, not allowing him back to his feet. A relieving penalty should have been the outcome but never came. The referee mystifyingly awarded the Munster side a five metre scrum, from which Ferguson was driven over for a try, which Cronin (brother of Ireland hooker Sean ) converted. This was just one of many decisions to go against The Pirates throughout the season, and it was crucial in giving the visitors a lift at a vital stage.
Then in the final move of the half, Garryowen were awarded a penalty following an indisciplined Buccs tackle. Cronin punted to the right corner and, following the lineout, Barron was mauled over for a try. The scrum-half’s second successful conversion earned a 17-7 lead for the visitors at the interval.
Buccaneers had a good third quarter and had the light blues on the back foot, but could only muster a 47th minute penalty to narrow the arrears. Garryowen, displaying a more clinical edge, secured an unconverted try in what was really their first meaningful attack of the second half, when Johnston stretched over the home line on 62 minutes.
Led by skipper for the day, Paul Boyle, and Audi Athlone man of the match, Cian Romaine, Buccaneers battled to the bitter end, but lacked the power, precision and patience to unlock the more seasoned Limerick side’s stout defending. The visitors were the physically stronger and more cohesive outfit, well marshalled by Cronin, who displayed why he has been signed by Munster for the coming season. The away win keeps Garryowen in a top four berth, now just one point ahead of Clontarf.
Meanwhile, it is straight back down to Division 1B for Buccs, despite the best efforts of a squad short on experience, bulk and numbers. However, the players played with commendable gumption and commitment throughout, and they will have learned harsh lessons while playing against the best clubs in the country. If Buccaneers can retain the bulk of this mainly young and promising squad, while also undertaking some astute recruiting, they can make a strong bid for a swift return to the top flight.
Buccaneers final Ulster Bank League fixture pits them against long time table toppers Lansdowne at Lansdowne Road on Saturday. Kick-off for this Division 1A game is 2.30pm.