Hard fought bonus point keeps Seconds top of League


A youthful Buccaneers side pushed Connemara all the way in a pulsatingly contested Connacht Junior 1A League game played in a howling Atlantic breeze at the Monastery Field, Clifden, on Sunday. The midlanders scored two tries to the Blacks one but were pipped on a16-14 scoreline. However, the losing bonus point secured was just reward for a team that are growing in stature and are a real emerging force again in the topflight of Connacht Junior rugby. The Pirates on still on top of the league table by the slimmest of margins as this league takes a brief hiatus.

Lock Sam Kroupe returned from injury in the engine room in place of Fergus Galvin who is side-lined for a couple of weeks. Cedric Fokam also returned to the side and was most people’s man of the match with an energetic display of front row power and impact.

With a howling gale at their back, Buccaneers found the conditions very difficult with the swirling wind nullifying the perceived advantage of it. The game was played primarily in the forwards exchanges and it took 30 minutes for a score when the home side took advantage of a rare slip in the visitors cover to score a try in the corner. The Connemara kicker nailed an excellent conversion to go 7-0 up. To make matters worse, Cathal [Mossy] O’Grady who was having a really fine game had to leave the field and was replaced by Liam Doyle. Niall Harney was also called ashore after he had put in a serious shift of work in the front row and was replaced by Trevor Thompson.

Buccaneers responded immediately to the setbacks and, after a number of carries, Eoin O’Carroll spotted a gap and ran a mazy line covering 30 metres to score under the posts. Out-half Andy Evans made sure of the conversion and the half finished even on 7points each.

Connemara now had the gale at their back and the home crowd sensed a comfortable close out. Darren Browne was introduced for Ross Flanagan and made a number of immediate line breaks, including a kick clearance under the wind that lifted the early Connemara siege. The visitors were holding out with incredible belief and work rate. Connemara played smart rugby and picked off 3 penalties which were excellently converted in the final quarter. Buccaneers were now 9 points down and with Connemara camped on the Pirates try line, it looked a lost cause. But Buccs had dominated the scrum all day and won a critical penalty to clear the lines. It lifted the group, and they edged up the field almost inch by inch until the ball spilled to Harry Balsiger who launched a ground kick and chase. Again, it was the lively O’ Carroll who fed off the crumbs and he ran at the Connemara cover causing all sorts of panic and almost getting over the line. Buccaneers were awarded a penalty on the try-line, and when the home team infringed again at the resulting scrum, the referee decided it was one too many, and raised his arm under the posts for a penalty try.

The final whistle was blown with two exhausted teams having given everything. Buccaneers had momentum in the final 10 minutes and the home team knew they had just done enough the win the game. For the Athlone team it was their best performance to date, and a hard-fought losing bonus point gained ensures they retain top spot in the league.

The entire pack including replacements were rock solid with Fokam, Kroupe, Brian McDonnell, Mark Tallon and Browne when introduced having a particularly strong impact on the game. The backline defended stoutly, where Dara Mulvihill had his best game. Scrumhalf and captain Colin Daly was composed throughout and despite a knock in the first quarter stayed the course to steer the game. O’Carroll was again the pick of the backs and showed his ball skills on the rare occasions he got his hands on it.

The group now have three weeks to prepare for Tuam in the next round of the J1A league at home on November 28th. It’s a very timely respite with key players needing recovery from injury, and it also affords the coaching team the opportunity to give the wider squad gametime in the Cawley Plate playoffs over the next two weeks. A number of returning players like Jensen Nagle, Harry Hughes, Graham Lynch, Cian Daly, Darren Touhey and Sean Doyle will contest for places in this period and can only strengthen the effort of this group to go all the way this year and compete to win the J1A league.

BUCCANEERS:- E.O’Carroll; H.Balsiger, B.Porter, A.Evans, D.Mulvihill; G.Fallon, C.Daly (captain); N.Harney, R.Grenham, C.Fokam; M.Tallon, S.Kroupe; C.O’Grady, R.Flanagan and B.McDonnell. Replacements:- D.Browne, T.Thompson, S.Flynn, L.Doyle, C.Rooney-Digan and R.Teape.