It’s top against bottom as Buccaneers and Dolphin battle for precious Ulster Bank League Division 1B points at Dubarry Park tomorrow (Saturday). Kick-off for this key match in Athlone is 2.30pm.
Buccaneers PRO Michael Silke previews the vital clash for the Division 1B leaders.
Buccs are within touching distance of promotion to the top flight and they will be eager to stretch their superb unbeaten sequence. At present they are 16 points clear of both UL Bohemian and Naas with just five matches remaining so a home win would virtually secure the Pirates’ passage to 1A.
For Dolphin, the points are equally priceless for they prop up the division on 18 points, a third of what the midlanders have claimed to date. The Cork side lie five points adrift of Galwegians and a further two behind Shannon, whom they defeated 24-11 in their most recent outing. This bonus point victory has thrown Dolphin a lifeline and they will be buoyed by that crunch win so will prove dangerous foes.
Buccs enjoyed a merited bonus point 31-22 win over Dolphin at Irish Independent Park at the end of October but the Athlone side will be prudent to recall that Dolphin came out on top both home and away the previous season. So focus and respect will be key for the Pirates as the Corkonians will be fighting desperately to avoid relegation.
Coached by David Corkery and with assistance from Denis Hurley (who could feature), the southerners have some decent operators in their ranks none more than Barry Keeshan. The veteran out-half can dictate the tempo and style of the game if given latitude while he will also punish any indiscipline by the midlanders from placed balls. Will Hanly and Cian McGovern are two other lively backs. John Madigan is a richly promising young lock and the more experienced Brian Scott a highly competitive prop; both these forwards have enjoyed game time with Munster this season. Barry Fitzgerald and Ryan Murphy are part of a mobile back row unit and Buccs will have to work hard to dominate this sector.
Saba Meunargia’s departure to Doncaster is a massive loss to Buccs but Ryan O’Meara’s recent form has been encouraging following recent injury setbacks so he could join Martin Staunton and John Sutton in the home front row. Simon Meagher has done very well partnering Danny Qualter at lock in the absence through injury of Cian Romaine while the Pirates back row trio of Rory Moloney, Stephen McVeigh and Kolo Kiripati can match the best at this level. Evan Galvin, Rory Grenham, Shane Delahunt and Ruairi Byrne are solid alternatives in the home pack where Conor Kenny is close to a comeback.
Shane Layden and Jordan Conroy return after their Ireland Sevens camp in Portugal to add firepower to the Pirates backs unit. Alan Gaughan has come on in leaps and bounds this season and Frankie Hopkins has slotted in more or less seamlessly alongside him and the best is yet to be seen from Luke Carty. Shane O’Leary, Rory O’Connor, Callum Boland and Alex Hayman will all be vying for starting berths but Mata Fifita is ruled out due to injury but Eoghan O’Reilly could be fit again. U20s Dean McMahon and Dan Keane acquitted themselves well when sprung at UL Bohemian.
So head coach Brett Wilkinson has permutations to work with but, first and foremost, he must ensure his charges are focussed and committed, and guard against any complacency. Buccaneers have worked hard all season and their momentum can take them one step closer to sealing promotion. With the team going so well and playing attractive rugby in the process, here’s hoping for a bumper attendance tomorrow.