BUCCANEERS knocked holders Sligo out of the Connacht Senior Cup by 22-5 in their semi-final clash at Dubarry Park on Saturday. Both teams were much changed from their opening day league tie at Strandhill with the visitors fielding seven of their starters from that occasion while Buccs had one less. Michael Hanley was the Pirates sole survivor from their backline while James Kelly, Martin Staunton, Cian McCann and the Galvin brothers Fergus and Evan lined out in the pack. The north-westerners had a quartet of forwards in Matthew Earley, Eddie Coyle, Craig Trimble and James O’Hehir and a trio of Enda Gavin, Brendan Cunningham and Guilherme Coghetto in their backs unit.

Heavy rain in the 24 hours preceding kick-off meant underfoot conditions were quite soft which looked an advantage for the bigger visiting forwards. But aided by the breeze and a dominant pack in the set-pieces Buccaneers dictated the opening half in front of a modest attendance on what turned out to be a fine sunny afternoon. A great early drive by the home pack was a portent of what was to come but the midlanders lack of precision and indiscipline cost them in a number of promising positions before Hanley opened the scoring with 12th minute penalty when Sligo were guilty of not releasing the ball.

But, within three minutes, Sligo grabbed the lead totally against the run of early play when Kuba Wojtkowicz made good ground up the centre and two passes later Ryan Feehily outmanoeuvred a couple of home defenders all too easily up the stand side for an unconverted try. Their advantage lasted just seven minutes. Hanley made a splendid 50/22 touch on the right where skipper Galvin won the lineout and the ball was moved to Stephen Mannion whose clever dink ahead exposed the Sligo defence and that poacher supreme Shane Layden was ever alert to notch a try which Hanley converted.

Eoin O’Reilly was flagged by a touch-judge for an untidy tackle and was sin-binned on 26 minutes but the scrumhalf was a shade unfortunate as he had been tackled off the ball by a Sligo flanker just moments earlier. Just two minutes later Rory O’Connor suffered a high tackle that forced his withdrawal due to a nasty facial cut, yet the visitors’ centre Aaron Spring escaped with a lecture from the referee. Nevertheless, Buccaneers continued to dominate territory and, after Layden was stopped short, Hanley coolly and sublimely lofted a precise diagonal kick to the lurking McCann who dived over for an unconverted 33rd minute try.

In the closing exchanges of the half, Fallon chased his own excellent kick ahead to put Coghetto under severe pressure and in the final move Tabo Maree just could not hold on to Harry Hughes offload with the Sligo line beckoning. Although 15-5 ahead at the interval, the advantage looked tenuous as Sligo had the influential breeze to back them on the change of ends.

The holders did threaten in the early stages of the second half with Maree making one notable turnover in that period. Thereafter, Buccs resumed dominance and indeed were camped inside the Sligo 22 for a prolonged spell either side of the hour mark without reward. It looked like they had finally breached the resilient Sligo defending when Hughes dotted down from Layden’s pass at the left corner flag on 58 minutes but the well-placed touch-judge adjudicated that the substitute was shunted into touch fractionally ahead of grounding the ball. Sligo’s best retort in this half was a break by Calum Goddard and the full-back then did well to halt McCann’s romp forward just after the hour mark.

However, Buccaneers pressure finally paid off after many flurries towards the visitors’ line when Fergus Galvin peeled away from the back of a close-in ruck to stretch over for a 72nd minute try which Hanley converted to complete the 22-5 winning scoreline. The Athlone side were full value for the margin of victory, which with more precision could have been greater. U-20 flanker McCann continues to blossom and he was recipient of the Audi Athlone Man of the Match accolade for which Maree, Fallon and captain Galvin were all strong contenders. Operating at flyhalf Brazilian Coghetto was always eager to take on the home defence as was Feehily while Wojtkowicz and Earley were pick of the visitors’ forwards. Buccaneers now advance to a St. Patrick’s Day final against league champions Ballina.

BUCCANEERS:- M.Hanley; T.McGann, S.Layden, S.Mannion, R.O’Connor; R.Fallon, E.O’Reilly; J.Kelly, R.Grenham, M.Staunton; R.Byrne, F.Galvin; C.McCann, E.Galvin (captain) and T.Maree. Replacements:- H.Hughes (for O’Connor, inj. 27 mins), D.Browne (for Grenham, h/t), S.O’Connell (for Kelly, 55 mins), S.Kroupa (for F.Galvin, 55 mins), C.Daly (for O’Reilly, 63 mins), F.Galvin (for McCann, 65 mins) and J.Kelly (for Staunton, 68 mins).

SLIGO:- C.Goddard; E.Gavin, R.Feehily, A.Spring, F.Lynch-Young; G.Coghetto, B.Cunningham; E.Coyle, M.Earley (captain), C.Trimble; E.Ryan, K.Wojtkowicz; J.O’Hehir, B.West and C.Neilsen. Replacements:- J.Sexton (for Trimble, 33 mins), S.Wynne (for Neilsen, h/t), J.Fleming (for Gavin, 45 mins), C.Trimble (for Sexton, 51 mins), C.Neilsen (for West, 51 mins), E.Gavin (for Fleming, 53 mins), A.Tansey (for Coyle, 72 mins) and J.Gormley.

Referee:- Shane Gaughan (Connacht).