SHANNON 13 BUCCANEERS 19published:Apr 09 2017
BUCCANEERS magnificent title winning Ulster Bank League Division 1B campaign continued on the back pitch at Thomond Park where they defeated Shannon 19-13 on Saturday. In glorious sunshine, this was a terrifically competitive encounter between two teams who relished the firm underfoot conditions as both sides had much to play for. Shannon, with one eye over their shoulder on the relegation mire, still had ambitions of being involved in the promotion play-offs. Buccs had pride to play for and they laid the foundation of this hard-earned but merited win when playing against the significant breeze in the opening half.
Both teams fielded unchanged packs but Buccs had four changes in their backline while Shannon had three. Luke O’Dea replaced Greg O’Shea on the home right wing while the nine times champions had Ronan McKenna and Jack Stafford as halfback pairing instead of Conor Fitzgerald and Keith Kavanagh, with the latter on their bench. The Pirates released Alan Gaughan to Westmeath for their successful National Football League Division 4 final and Shane Layden for Sevens duty while Eoin Griffin was selected by Connacht. Shane O’Leary started at outhalf, Alex Hayman manned the centre and Callum Boland returned at fullback while Rory O’Connor was preferred on the right wing.
In front of a decent and vocal crowd, the Pirates made the perfect start when O’Leary gathered a wind-assisted long clearance on his own 22 and surged forward through surprisingly tame tackle attempts by Riley Winter and Duncan Casey. Without having to hit top gear he romped forward without a hand being laid on him and then the Buccs flyhalf produced nifty footwork to get past Stephen Fitzgerald for a try before the first minute had elapsed. O’Leary duly added a fine conversion from wide on the right for an early tonic 7-0 lead.
McKenna opened Shannon’s account with a 16th minute penalty when Buccs infringed at a scrum but ten minutes later the hosts opted for touch with an eminently kickable penalty when the midlanders did not release. However Buccs won the lineout to clear the danger and they then rejigged their backline when injury forced Mata Fifita off before the half-hour mark. Luke Carty came in at stand-off with O’Leary switching to the centre. Buccs then got no reward from a couple of penalties punted to touch on the left after a brief flare-up while O’Connor was bundled into touch on the opposite flank as he closed in on the home tryline. The midlanders pressure forced a penalty at a scrum in midfield and then won a free kick following the lineout on the right. This in turn yielded another scrum from which Conor McKeon’s quick thinking and cheeky dart yielded a 38th minute try which O’Leary converted to give the visitors a 14-3 cushion at half-time.
Five minutes after the change of ends, Jordan Conroy looked like adding to his 17 tries but was puzzlingly whistled back for crossing even though there was not a Shannon player within touching distance of him! The impressive Danny Qualter was harshly yellow carded on 50 minutes for perceived blocking while Shannon winger Nathan Randles was fortunate to escape similar censure when he up-ended the airborne Callum Boland four minutes later as the Buccs fullback soared to claim a teasing up and under. Boland was forced off in this incident with Frankie Hopkins coming on at scrumhalf and McKeon moving to fullback. However, Shannon made their temporary numerical superiority pay, referee Mark Patton awarding a 56th minute penalty try to the homesters following a superb maul. McKenna’s conversion left just four points between the teams, the Athlone side’s advantage reduced to 14-10.
Led by the peerless Kolo Kiripati, Buccaneers responded swiftly and Simon Meagher was unlucky to put a foot in touch when endeavouring to break through on the right flank. From the resultant lineout Shannon did not make much yardage to touch and Rory Moloney tapped down quick possession from Buccs throw-in on the home ten metre line and the ball was smartly transferred to O’Connor who accelerated in an arc from right to left through the home defence for a stunning 58th minute try. O’Leary’s conversion shaved the wrong side of the upright but Buccs, back to full complement, had their tails up again.
However, ten minutes later, they were reduced to 14 players again when substitute Rory Grenham was sin binned for a rash high tackle less than three minutes after his introduction. It was only at this stage that Buccaneers began to make efficient use of the elements with O’Leary and Carty both pinning Shannon back and the latter was fractionally off-target with an audacious drop goal attempt from his own half. John Sutton then went close to adding to Buccs tally in the closing stages with a grubber kick and chase as Buccs recorded their seventh victory in the last eight meetings between the clubs.
This worthy win keeps the Athlone side a massive 16 points clear at the top of the league table. Kiripati and Qualter were outstanding in the Pirates pack and O’Leary was composed in the backline where O’Connor was the more threatening wing than the closely shepherded Conroy on this occasion. Meanwhile, Shannon’s lingering hopes of a promotion playoff were dashed but their losing bonus point secures their Division 1B status.
SHANNON:- S.Fitzgerald; N.Randles, R.Deegan, W.Leonard, L.O’Dea; R.McKenna, J.Stafford; C.Glynn, D.Casey, J.Andress; R.Winter, L.Nicholas (captain); L.Moylan, N.Mulcahy and J.Foley. Replacements:- J.Vaughan (for Foley, inj. 4 mins), J.O’Donnell (for Deegan, inj. 23 mins), T.Cusack (for Glynn, 35 mins), C.Glynn (for Vaughan, 47 mins), J.Vaughan (for Andress, 69 mins), J.Prenderville (for Casey, 69 mins) and K.Kavanagh (for Leonard, 77 mins).
BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; R.O’Connor, A.Hayman, M.Fifita, J.Conroy; S.O’Leary, C.McKeon; J.Dever, J.Sutton, M.Staunton; D.Qualter, S.Meagher; S.McVeigh, R.Moloney and K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements:- L.Carty (for Fifita, inj. 29 mins), F.Hopkins (for Boland, inj. 55 mins), E.Galvin (for McVeigh, 57 mins), R.O’Meara (for Dever, 57 mins), R.Grenham (for Sutton, 65 mins) and J.Sutton (for Moloney, 70 mins).
Referee:- Mark Patton (IRFU).