BALLINA 19 BUCCANEERS 49 | News | Buccaneers Rugby Football Club Athlone

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published:Aug  26   2018

BUCCANEERS made a winning start to the defence of their Connacht Senior League title by inflicting a first home defeat in over a year on Ballina with Buccs coming out on top 49-19 at Heffernan Park on Saturday. The relatively youthful Pirates crew hit the ground running against the Mayo club who have regained Senior status and who will shortly compete in the All-Ireland League. Three converted tries in the opening quarter laid the foundation for this fully merited victory by the midlanders.


Buccaneers arrived in the North-West accompanied by some apprehension. As usual in this League, they could not call on their Connacht complement while they were short quite a number of regulars particularly in the backline where last season’s skipper Shane Layden and Callum Boland are injured, Alan Gaughan has GAA commitments and Jordan Conroy was not available from the Ireland Sevens. Meanwhile, Ballina (who lost just one match last season) already had a good win under the belts so the Shannonsiders experimental side faced a formidable challenge.


The pack had a decent nucleus from last season bolstered by the return of Rory Moloney in the backrow where Andries Kruger debuted and another young gun Ross Cooper made his first senior appearance at lock. The backline had a total overhaul where Rory O’Connor took a rare central role and Frankie Hopkins started at fullback. Much interest focussed on teenager Michael Hanley filling the pivotal fly-half slot while pacey Thomas McGann got an opportunity on the wing.


On a fine afternoon and on a firm sod, the game was played at a lively pace. Buccs forced a knock-on deep inside their own half and O’Connor and McGann linked smartly down the right flank before the former scored Buccaneers first try of the new season under the posts, giving Hanley the perfect opportunity with his first placekick at this level.


Shortly afterwards home No.8 Daniel Molloy was caught in possession, coughing up a penalty to the visitors who then mauled their way to the line where referee Jason Cairns had no hesitation in awarding a 12th minute penalty try. Seven minutes later, Ballina opted for a scrum when awarded a penalty inside Buccs 22 but a good shove by the Pirates pack enabled Ruairi Byrne to swoop on the ball which was thumped downfield where Christopher O’Neill did not cope with Darragh Corbett’s chase. The Buccs winger was rewarded for his bravery as he grubbered ahead to ground the ball for a try on the left. Hanley’s conversion gave Buccaneers a healthy 21-0 lead by the end of the opening quarter.


Ballina had their moments too and, following a decent spell, Aidan McNulty opened their scoring with a 28th minute try converted by Kieran Lindsay. Three minutes later Hanley had his only placekick miss, from a penalty, before Buccs notched a bonus point with their fourth try after 35 minutes. The lively O’Connor made a fine break into the home half where he off-loaded to Corbett who sped down the left flank for his second try and Hanley stroked over an excellent touchline conversion.


Ballina had chances to close the gap but Byrne’s tackle forced O’Neill to knock on in a promising position while Buccs again turned over possession from a home penalty when the men in green opted for a close-in scrum. The Pirates moved the ball smartly right to left and Hopkins made some ground before kicking ahead. As O’Connor challenged O’Neill the ball bounced kindly for the supporting visitors’ fullback and Hopkins scampered away to score between the posts. Hanley’s conversion was the final act of the half and it gave Buccaneers a comfortable 35-7 lead at the break.


Ballina were more urgent on the resumption in a more even second half and the mazy running of O’Neill yielded a 48th minute try converted by Lindsay. Although Gavin Moore could not gather possession in a quick counter attack, further improved continuity by Ballina was rewarded with an unconverted Fergal Tully wide on the left after 53 minutes. This reduced the margin to 35-19 and the mettle of this Buccs outfit was tested. But they quickly responded with the impressive O’Connor making another typically scything break that warranted a try. Running out of space, he fed Moloney who was stopped just short of the home line. However, Buccs forced a penalty which they opted to scrum and fine work by the pack was finished off by Martin Staunton for a 57th minute try, Hanley again adding the conversion.


McGann then killed off any lingering hopes of a home comeback when he intercepted near his own 22 to hare away for a 63rd minute try between the uprights. Hanley’s sixth conversion proved the final score and Buccs saw the game out despite late yellow cards to James Kelly (for a rash tackle) and Corbett (for a deliberate knock on).


Buccs new senior coaching duo Peter O’Donnell and Aidan Wynne will have seen much to enthuse about in this collective performance. Youngsters Hanley, Kruger and Cooper all did well, Byrne lorded the lineouts, and the front row was solid. O’Connor excelled in the centre where he was partnered by the strong-tackling Conor Finn while Moloney added abrasiveness to the backrow. Eager Buccs were slicker in handling and more cutting when chances arose and they will benefit considerably for overcoming this awkward first hurdle. This season will be a step up for Ballina for whom Calum Quinn was their outstanding performer while O’Neill, Lindsay, Molloy and Shane Clarke had their moments.


BALLINA:- C.O’Neill; M.Cribben, C.Quinn, A.Corduff, M.O’Grady; K.Lindsay, M.Murphy; C.Mason, L.Sweeney, S.Clarke; A.McNulty, A.West; J.Keaveney, F.Tully and D.Molloy. Rolling substitutions:- S.Herbert, H.Henson, D.Holmes, C.McCormick and N.Keane.


BUCCANEERS:- F.Hopkins; T.McGann, C.Finn, R.O’Connor, D.Corbett; M.Hanley, G.Lynch; R.Grenham, J.Sutton (captain), M.Staunton; R.Byrne, R.Cooper; A.Kruger, R.Moloney and E.Galvin. Replacements:- E.O’Reilly (for Lynch, 44 mins), S.O’Connell (for Grenham, 53 mins), R.Grenham (for Sutton), R.Enraght-Moony (for Kruger), J.Kelly (for Staunton) and G.Fallon (for Hopkins, inj.).


REFEREE:- Jason Cairns (Connacht).