A late penalty try by Buccaneers denied Galwegians this year's Connacht Senior League crown after a well-contested encounter at Dubarry Park on Saturday.
The Glenina outfit looked like regaining the title they had not held in three years when seasoned campaigner Brian Murphy grabbed his third try in the 76th minute, and David Clarke's conversion put four points between the sides.
However, Wegians gave the home side the initiative when conceding a penalty which resulted in a final attack. A chip over the defence saw Conor McMahon set to score, but after being impeded by a Galwegian defender, referee Jason Cairns awarded a penalty try to decide the contest and the league title.
Both teams had lined out with new faces in their squads. Buccaneers were forced to line out with eight U20 players from last season, but had familiar players in Martin Staunton, John Sutton, Evan Galvin and Simon Meagher, while Galwegians were led by the experienced skipper Anthony Ryan, Murphy, Clarke, and Eoin Tarmey.
Galwegians struck early when a pinpoint diagonal kick found Murphy in acres of space and he cantered in for the opening try, which Clarke converted. Buccs responded positively, and a couple of penalties to the left brought them close to the visitors’ line before Galvin powered over in the eighth minute, with Michael Hanley converting to level the scores 7-7.
Wegians capitalised on a penalty to touch, and although the attack was held up at the posts, the ball was moved to the opposite flank where Sean O’Sullivan finished off for an unconverted 22nd minute try. Eleven minutes later Wegians nabbed their third try following a penalty on the home 10 metre line and the ball was moved neatly via Rory Gaffney and James Kennedy to send Murphy in for his second try. Clarke’s conversion gave Galwegians a 19-7 half-time lead.
Buccs, with the wind in the second half, applied early pressure with Hanley potting a penalty, but when Murphy made telling break, Tarmey romped in for a 49th minute Galwegian try, and Clarke converted to give the visitors a 26-10 lead, a home comeback looked unlikely.
Yet Buccs continued to press forward and when Michael O’Donnell was sin binned for illegally slowing possession after 52 minutes, a drive by the home pack saw Staunton surge over the visitors’ line for an unconverted 55th minute try. Ten minutes later further impressive mauling by the hosts yielded a Sutton try, and Hanley’s conversion reduced the arrears to just four points.
It did not get any better for Galwegians when substitute Shane Ryan was yellow carded, and a super chase by Thomas McGann pressurised the Tribesmen forcing a turnover deep in his opponents’ territory. Buccs Staunton delivered the bonus point try with Hanley’s conversion putting the Athlone outfit in front for the first time 29-26.
Murphy's hat-trick minutes later put Wegians in the driving seat again, but the drama was not finished when Buccs claimed the penalty try to continue their recent stanglehold on the title, while also automatically qualifying for this season’s Senior Cup final scheduled for January 5.
Buccaneers: R Murphy-Sweeney; E O’Reilly, C McMahon, R Enraght-Moony, T McGann; M Hanley, C Reilly; S O’Connell, J Sutton, M Staunton (c ); R Byrne, R Flanagan; O Treacy, E Galvin, S Meagher. Replacements, D Browne for O’Connell 60m, J Kelly for Galvin 65m, G Fallon for Flanagan 75m, S Flynn.
Galwegians: R Gaffney; S O’Sullivan, A Donovan, B Murphy, J Kennedy; D Clarke, S Browne; J Hays, C Reilly, R Lomas; E Tarmey, A Ryan (c ); A Addis-Johnson, P Hackett, M O’Donnell. Replacements, S Ryan for Addis-Johnson 6-12m ), M Fox for Hays h/t, P O’Donnell for Reilly h/t, S Ryan for Addis-Johnson h/t, H Lane for Browne 56m, D Faulkner for Kennedy ).
Referee: Jason Cairns (Connacht ).