BUCCANEERS 22 OLD BELVEDERE 16 and a full report
on the U16 Cup final between Buccaneers and Sligo
Rugby with Michael Silke
Paul Harte 2 tries; Dan Riordan try, Tom Sexton try; Conal Keane 3 pens & con Alan Gaughan 2 cons & pen
Who needs Steve McQueen when you've got Paul Harte?! A stunning added time try by winger Harte, converted by Alan Gaughan, confirmed Buccaneers Division One status in an entertaining and lively AIB League game at sunny Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. With UCD and Young Munster also battling to avoid the dreaded drop, the midlanders knew that victory must be their goal and with the exchanges equally tight at Belfield, Buccs conjured up a dramatic last gasp try worthy of winning any game to secure their ‘great escape'.
The midlanders made just one change in personnel and positionally from last week's debacle against ‘the Cookies' with Aidan Wynne returning in the centre and Harte reverting to the wing at the expense of the unlucky Conor Lavelle who was on the bench. More importantly, the performance by Buccs bore no comparison to the inept and lifeless showing last week and there was purpose and commitment galore right from the off and, crucially, right to the very end in this absolutely "must win" clash. Old Belvedere, meanwhile, with little apart from pride to play for made some line-up changes and the young introductions were keen to stake their claim for next season and thus consistently asked questions of Buccs desire and ability in a lively contest, sponsored by Kilmartin's N6 Service Station Ltd., and played in glorious sunshine on a firm turf.
Buccaneers start was not what they would have wished for, infringing in the first lineout of the game in the opening minute and Conal Keane duly slotting over the resultant penalty for the visitors. But Buccs promptly opened their account, Kevin Moran steamrolling his way following a lineout on halfway to inside the visitors 22 where possession was recycled smartly to the right and Danny Riordan outflanked the cover to surge in for a 5th minute try which Alan Gaughan was unable to convert from wide on the right.
Mark Bruce and Riordan closed down the visitors' attempts to clear their lines as Buccs attempted to build on this score but Gaughan missed a kickable penalty after 14 minutes while a high tackle put an end to an exciting John O'Brien break from his own half. Buccs went through a number of pick and go phases from this penalty and Gaughan darted through to dot down just a minute later but referee Leo Colgan deemed that he (the match official) had blocked Old Belvedere's defence getting to the home centre and he did not allow the try. In hindsight, had this try been allowed, Buccs would have secured a Bonus point that would have lifted them above both Ulster clubs in the league table. However, Buccs were far more urgent and constantly forcing the pace in the opening quarter although they could not add to their tally at this stage.
Belvo got back in front on 29 minutes, Keane's penalty punishing a handling infringement on the home 22. Leo Auva'a then set up a threatening attack (although his pass was clearly forward, delivered from his own half and caught by the receiver in Buccs half!) before Ruairi Cushion made a promising sniping break for the visitors. Buccs responded with a promising raid by Wynne who looked like he had outpaced his chaser but he opted to pass when perhaps he should have backed himself, while the now stretched Belvo cover escaped any censure when they surely knocked on to deny Buccs a try on 39 minutes.
In added time, the homesters were then penalised for an equally deliberate knock on and Keane edged Old Belvedere a bit further ahead with the final kick of the half to leave the Dubliners 9-5 ahead at the break.
Buccaneers now had the assistance of the fresh breeze but they kicked straight into touch on the restart and this set up a decent spell by Belvo with Richie Leyden and Marcus McAllister threatening to breach the home cover but Adrian Hanley did well to recover possession. O'Brien soon had the home supporters cheering with a typical raid and James Tormey made a smashing break from midway as Buccs stepped up their endeavours. They were now becoming the dominant force and Harte took a splendid angle when scorching in for 58th minute try which Gaughan converted to regain the lead.
Such was Buccaneers desire that two players collided heavily going for the ball but both, thankfully, recovered after treatment to continue the good fight. Gaughan was alert as Belvo tried an unorthodox restart to win possession after 71 minutes and Riordan's drop goal attempt went tantalisingly close. But, a minute later, Gaughan was on target with a penalty after Belvo were guilty of a handling infringement and Buccs looked set for victory, now 15-9 ahead.
Old Belvedere had other ideas, however, and four minutes from normal time Ireland U-20 hooker Tom Sexton was awarded a try on the left although it seemed patently clear that he had lost possession and knocked forward as he attempted to ground the ball. Then, rubbing salt in the wound, Keane did not make good contact with his conversion kick but the ball somehow squirmed over the bar to nose Old Belvedere 16-15 ahead with time now running out on Buccs.
This contentious try put a spanner in the works but cometh the hour and the call was answered not just by try scorer Harte but by the team collectively with Colin Watters turning over possession inside his own 22 to start Buccaneers driving forward one more time and then flicking the ball to Kolo Kiripati. Possession was soon with Mark Bruce and went through the hands of virtually all the backline right out to young Harte and he left the cover for dead for a wonderfully worked end-to-end try worthy of winning any rugby match. But to produce such a sublime score in such a pressurised situation was quite remarkable. Gaughan confidently stroked over the conversion and then, when possession was gathered from the restart, Riordan kicked the ball high into touch, the game was over and salvation was at hand!
Old Belvedere were hugely disappointed but they will be a force to be reckoned with next season and, in skipper Leyden, No. 8 Auva'a, scrumhalf Cushion and centre Kieran Hurrell, they have the nucleus of a promising outfit.
Buccaneers, meanwhile, were thrilled that victory meant they were not dependent on the outcome of the UCD v Young Munster tie and indeed the midlanders win lifted them above Ballymena to finish 12th. There was pride, attitude and spark in their effort in a fine all-round performance that showed the side's potential to good effect as they stepped up to the challenges and criticism. It may not have been good recently for supporters' pulses and hearts but Buccs, arguably, kept the good wine to last! The pack worked very hard all through with props Moran and Michael Diffley laying down the necessary platform, Kieran O'Gorman was back to his buzzing best and Tormey had his finest input of the season. In a youthful but very effective backline, O'Brien was named ‘OYSTERhomes Man of the Match' due to his regular attacking forays and, just as importantly, a number of try-saving tackles while Harte's try-scoring exploits stood out. Wynne was very solid and Simon Rolleston's line-kicking and decision-making was vastly improved. This was a remarkable overall improved showing by the midlanders who can now regroup with a generally youthful squad who will have benefited from the trials and tribulations of this season. With some relatively minor fine-tuning, Buccaneers can look forward again to life in Division One next year.
One minute's silence was respectfully observed in memory of John Whelan, who was killed tragically in Dublin last weekend. He had been an U-20 player with Old Belvedere and a number of his teammates were in the Dublin side's squad for this the first AIB League meeting between the sides.
BUCCANEERS:- D.Riordan; J.O'Brien, A.Gaughan, A.Wynne, P.Harte; S.Rolleston, M.Bruce; M.Diffley, G.Halligan, K.Moran; C.Richardson, J.Tormey; K.Kiripati, K.O'Gorman and A.Hanley (captain). Replacements used:- M.Madden (for Halligan, 57 mins) and C.Watters (for O'Gorman, 74 mins).
OLD BELVEDERE:- E.Devitt; E.Fitzgerald, K.Hurrell, M.McAllister, P.Treacy; C.Keane, R.Cushion; V.Soden, D.Gavin, J.Hagan; E.Jackman, P.Spivey; R.Leyden (captain), J.Risdon and L.Auva'a. Replacements used:- T.Sexton (for Gavin, h-t), D.Synnott (for Jackman, 57 mins), and R.Donnelly (for Cushion, 69 mins).
REFEREE:- Leo Colgan (Munster).
CUP SEMI-FINAL ON WEDNESDAY
Buccaneers long awaited Connacht Senior Cup "home" semi-final match against Connemara is scheduled to take place on this Wednesday night at Galway Sportsground, kick off 7.30 p.m.
On league rankings, Buccs should have too much power and class for the Blacks, even though the midlanders will be short a number of players including Alex Hayman, Niall O'Hara, Mark Bruce and Sean Carey. However, they should have able replacements to choose from in the U-20 squad who are endeavouring to keep sharp for their forthcoming Cup final (most likely at the same venue on Wednesday week) while Conor Lavelle would relish the challenge. In the pack Kevin Moran and Michael Diffley have been battling to overcome knocks in recent games and may be rested with Benny Gilligan and Conor Higgins both raring to go. Colin Watters and Gavin Kelly are others who could get starting berths also.
Corinthians await the winners in the final and the Galway club is congratulated on topping Division Three of the AIB League and securing promotion. The final date may depend on Corinthians progress in their Top Four series.
Congratulations too to Buccaneers U-16's who defeated Sligo more comfortably than the final 19-10 scoreline suggests while the U-18's battled to the bitter end before giving best to Galwegians 5-3 in a hard-fought, finely balanced final. Meanwhile, Buccs were due to play Creggs in the U-13 Plate Final at Dubarry Park on Monday night.
WOMENS ALL-IRELAND FINAL IN ATHLONE
The Buccaneers club has again been honoured with the selection of Dubarry Park as venue for the Womens All-Ireland League final on Saturday.
The Super Draw was deferred for a couple of weeks to allow all sold tickets to be included. A goodly number of tickets were brought in on Saturday and it is anticipated that the Super Draw will take place in a fortnight's time, perhaps taking place in The Bounty after the big Munster v Leinster Heineken Cup semi-final match. Sellers are again urged to get their sold tickets in to our Administrator Geraldine as early as possible. The club apologises for this slight delay in holding the Draw.
IRELAND JERSEY AUCTIONED
An Ireland jersey, autographed by all members of the Grand Slam Championship winning team, was auctioned (in his own inimitable style by Sean Og Hurley!) after Buccaneers game last Saturday. Dr. John Barton was the successful bidder and his generosity provides a substantial contribution to the injured players' fund.
TAG RUGBY resumes shortly at Dubarry Park for the summer months. Full details shortly. In the meantime, Connacht Rugby are staging a series of ‘Try Rugby Camps' open to boys and girls aged 6 years to 13 years and runs from 9.30 am to 2 pm daily, Monday to Friday. Every child gets an official pack including jersey, shorts and socks as well as a gear bag and rugby ball. The cost is €80 per child.
One such camp takes place in Dubarry Park, Athlone, from July 20th to 24th inclusive. Places can be booked online at connachtrugby.ie where you can also check the full details.
Wednesday June 3rd has been selected as the date for the club's Annual General Meeting at The Bounty. The ‘Players Awards' night takes place at the Athlone Springs Hotel shortly; date to be confirmed later this week.
Congrats to Keith O'Neill and his bride Claire on their marriage last week.
BUCCANEERS VICTORIOUS IN UNDER-16 CUP FINAL
Buccaneers 19 Sligo 11
In a highly entertaining game at Galway Sportsground on Saturday, Buccaneers under-16 squad delivered the result they promised all year. Playing against a bigger Sligo team, Buccaneers talent and team spirit was the most important difference. Early defensive work, particularly a huge tackle by centre Robbie Henshaw on his opposite number, ended the Sligo hopes of running up the middle and together with the other midfielders Conor FitzGibbon and Jack Carty overcame the Sligo attempts to penetrate with well-aligned patient enormous tackles. Back three Anthony Cassidy, Conor Seery and John Maguire capably dealt with any threat of long kicks and mostly their strong last-ditch tackles held consistent through the afternoon with Conor Hanniffy also putting in a huge effort.
Back row giants Eunan McBrearty, Aidan Connaughton and Damien Hyland were all in top form covering the field with boundless energy and total commitment.
Connaughton using his unique style of step-running confounded the Sligo defence and, taking advantage, he linked up with valiant support runners in Lee McLaughlin, Tadhg Hennessy, Darren Digan, Glen Carey and John Monahan. In the exhausting heat of this sun-drenched day the first score was welcome relief and came from a telling fluent drop-goal by Jack Carty from 35 yards followed by a penalty. So by half time the score was six points to three in favour of Buccaneers.
Keeping up the earlier pressure Buccs covered every situation on the field with simple play, dictated by captain and out-half Carty well served by Barry Digby who had a marvellous game, and varied their ploys intelligently. Reward came in the form of a breakthrough Carty try giving an eleven points to three advantage.
Penalties were exchanged and then for a long time Buccs camped and dominated in the Sligo half. Attacking brilliantly all afternoon centre FitzGibbon took lines running and breaking tackles that confounded the Sligo men and again the speed and accuracy of his passing moves with Carty and his cousin Henshaw ensured Buccs lead remained totally safe.
Attack after attack continued and, although they didn't yield points, the clock was ticking down. Still ahead by fourteen points to three, three drop-goal attempts were watched go wide as all this was soaked up by the plucky Sligo defence. Again Buccs were unlucky not to score when a Sligo kick was blocked down and the ball spun away from FitzGibbon. However, as can happen in the luxury of so much Buccs possession, the interception of one miss-timed pass by Buccs no 8 allowed a speedy Sligo danger-man who was in the right place at the right time run sixty yards to score under the posts. The score advantage closed to fourteen points to eight because incredibly Sligo, in their hurry, missed the conversion.
Drama followed when Buccs as if stomached by this set back fought back. When winger Jack Donoghue got the ball he could see the line but the fastest Sligo man on the field pulled him down. Very soon after that Buccs won a scrum on the Sligo 22 and Connaughton ran one more time, he seemed to bounce off the ground to continue and slipped the ball into the Buccs charging pack leader Donoghue who ran on his inside shoulder. James was unstoppable and fittingly scored the winning try.
Although Sligo were not beaten yet, they managed to score one more penalty, the points difference finished at eight points.
BUCCANEERS:- Glen Carey, John Monaghan, James Donoghue, Lee McLaughlin, Tadhg Hennessy, Damien Hyland, Eunan McBrearty, Conor Hannify, Aidan Connaughton, Barry Digby, Jack Carty (Captain) , Conor Fitzgibbon, Robert Henshaw, Conor Seery, Anthony Cassidy, John Maguire, Jack Donoghue, Darren Digan. Panel included: Robert Corcoran, Ryan Reid, William Walesch, Seb Ryan, Emmett Donnelly and Tony Deehan.