For the second week in a row Buccaneers had their top four aspirations dented by Limerick opposition when Old Crescent held on to win this Energia All-Ireland League Division 2A game by 24-17 at sun-drenched Dubarry Park on Saturday. In near perfect conditions the Athlone side made four changes from the defeat at UL Bohemian. Sam Illo and Declan Adamson returned to front row duty, Eoin O’Reilly resumed at scrumhalf and Graham Lynch was a surprising choice at fullback. Meanwhile the visitors had seven changes from the side that started against the midlanders at Halloween with Tavita Tali Toia, Ronan Reynolds and centres Shane Mullally and Paul McNamara among those starting on this occasion.

Aided by the light breeze, the Munster men got a perfect start when they spread the ball smartly from right to left following a penalty to the Bounty corner and Dan Hurley finished at pace for a 2nd minute try. Ronan McKenna added a super touchline conversion and the outhalf then landed a 7th minute penalty for an early 10-0 lead. Darragh Murray’s over eagerness saw him concede both penalties and he incurred a yellow card for the second infringement. Almost as quickly Old Crescent had a player in the sin bin, prop Cathal O’Reilly being guilty of bringing down a home maul close to his own side’s try line after 10 minutes. A number of close-in forays by the Pirates were held out with both Oisin McCormack and Adamson almost getting over the line.

Buccs began to settle and Ciaran Booth drove forward along the left in a move that was carried on by Adamson while Lynch and Shane Layden also made ground before the move ended on the opposite flank when the Old Crescent defence shepherded the Pirates into touch. An attempted pass by O’Reilly then missed a trio of teammates while Hurley and Jordan Higgins combined to halt a promising break by O’Connor. Hurley struck for his second try on the half-hour mark, being more alert and swifter than the home cover to a deft McKenna grubber kick, although the midlanders should be aggrieved that not one but two forward passes were involved in the lead up to this try! McKenna landed another touchline conversion to stretch his side’s advantage to 17-0.

As the homesters endeavoured to rally, Michael Hanley threw a ‘no look’ pass straight into touch when Buccs had an overlap on the stand side and worse followed in the final move of the half. The Pirates were putting an enterprising first half move together and had numbers to spare on the left but Layden’s lofted pass was picked off by Val McDermott and the winger raced away from halfway to touchdown at the posts. McKenna’s conversion gave Old Crescent a commanding 24-0 lead at the interval.

Buccaneers began to make changes early in the second half in which their efforts were more urgent if sometimes frantic and disjointed. A terrific crossfield kick by Hanley found O’Connor on the left where his progress was halted illegally but, despite a touch-judge flag, a penalty was the only punishment meted to the visitors. O’Connor then carried on a promising break but his pass was a shade too forward for Harry Balsiger as the Limerick side were now being pinned back more and more. The midlanders finally unlocked the Old Crescent cover with Booth and Frankie Hopkins combining neatly from the back of a scrum to send Layden over for a 55th minute try converted by Hanley from the left.

Buccs continued to kick aimlessly at times, one notable occasion when the visitors had two players receiving treatment for injuries at the same time, and they were finding scores much harder to come by in the face of aggressive and sustained defending by the Limerick outfit. A barnstorming run by Layden after 70 minutes almost got the evergreen centre all the way to the try line but in the follow up play another home pass went straight to touch. However, six minutes from time the Pirates were again rewarded for their much better second half showing. Their superiority at scrums yielded them a penalty that was tapped swiftly and after a number of pick-and-goes Darren Browne surged over for 74th minute try which Hanley converted from the right.

Buccaneers continued to push forward and earned a 78th minute penalty which Hanley slotted over to salvage a losing bonus point that keeps the Athlone club in third place on the league table. But this was another frustrating performance by the Pirates who have gone somewhat flat following two recent exhilarating 60 points scorelines. That may be down to a lack of proper focus as well as missing injured personnel although one or two selection experiments are puzzling. Layden redeemed his first half error with an influential second half contribution to claim the AUDI ATHLONE Man of the Match accolade for which Booth would have been his closest challenger with Adamson another contender.

While MU Barnhall, Old Crescent (who may have felt at half-time that a try bonus point was up for grabs) and Dolphin all got closer, Buccaneers are still in control of their top four destiny and they now have a three weeks AIL sojourn to reorganise and revitalise their challenge. In the meantime, Buccs play Ballina in the Connacht Senior Cup final at Galway Sportsground on St. Patrick’s Day.

BUCCANEERS:- G.Lynch; H.Balsiger, S.Layden, S.Mannion, R.O’Connor; M.Hanley, E.O’Reilly; M.Staunton, D.Adamson, S.Illo; D.Murray, D.Qualter; O.McCormack, E.Galvin (captain) and C.Booth. Replacements:- F.Hopkins (for O’Reilly, 45 mins), T.Maree (for McCormack, inj. 50 mins), R.Fallon (for Balsiger, 52 mins), S.O’Connell (for Staunton, 57 mins), D.Browne (for Adamson, 60 mins) and M.Staunton (for Illo, inj. 64 mins).

OLD CRESCENT:- J.Higgins; V.McDermott, S.Mullally, P.McNamara, D.Hurley; R.McKenna, G.Fitzgerald; C.O’Reilly, D.O’Brien, J.Considine; K.Doyle (captain), T.Tali Toia; C.Raele, K.Madden and R.Reynolds. Replacements:- A.Stacey (for Doyle, temp. 14/20 mins), G.Coyne (for Tali Toia, 45 mins), J.Hurley (for D.Hurley, 45 mins), S.Monaghan (for Madden, 56 mins), K.Madden (for Reynolds, 60 mins) and A.Stacey (for O’Reilly, 66 mins).

Referee:- Colm Roche (IRFU).