SENIOR CUP FINAL ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY
BUCCANEERS AND BALLINA contest the Connacht Senior Cup final at Galway Sportsground on St. Patrick’s Day with an earlyish 1 p.m. kick-off time. This promises to be a keen and even battle for silverware with the Greens seeking a very rare double as they captured the Connacht Senior League crown early in the season. Enroute to that triumph they defeated Buccs 26-12 at Dubarry Park last August.
Buccs were well off the pace at that stage of the season and trailed 19-0 at halftime but they could not reel the north-westerners in despite an improved second half showing. Hooker Billy McVann and captain Luke Sweeney are key figures in the Ballina pack. This is an area Buccs must dominate, otherwise backs Darragh Whyte, Ronan Molloy or Alex Corduff are capable of picking off scores. Callum Quinn gives a physicality in this sector where Micky Murphy has the smarts to operate at 9 or 10.
Although the Pirates cannot play their Connacht Academy crew in this fixture, the Athlone squad has improved immeasurably as the season has progressed. Skipper Evan Galvin and Shane Layden (who was captain when Buccs last won this splendid trophy in 2019) can be counted on to lead when the going gets tough as can Danny Qualter, Ruairi Byrne, Martin Staunton and Tabo Maree in the pack. Here Darren Browne could be joined by Sean O’Connell and the returning James Kelly in the front row while Cian McCann, Ryan O’Meara, Fergus Galvin and Sam Kroupa are other contenders for inclusion. Ruaidhri Fallon, Michael Hanley and Stephen Mannion may be young but they have compiled considerable AIL experience already and they are capable of opening the Ballina defence. There are three strong contenders for the pivotal link role at scrumhalf in Eoin O’Reilly, Graham Lynch and Frankie Hopkins while Rory O’Connor, Saul O’Carroll, Thomas McGann and Harry Hughes are among the options out wide.
The Pirates, who lie in 3rd place in Division 2A, must guard against complacency against Ballina, currently second from bottom in 2B following five defeats in their last six fixtures. It must be remembered that the Mayo club (who won their first Senior Cup in 1951 the year Athlone RFC was founded) inflicted a surprise defeat on the Shannonsiders when an injury time try earned them the spoils in 1979. Leo Galvin, uncle of Buccs captain Evan, and Tony Henshaw, father of Robbie, featured in the Athlone pack on that occasion.
TICKET AND MATCH ARRANGEMENTS
Tickets can be purchased online in advance of the Senior Cup final at a discounted rate of €10 for adults and €5 for juniors. Tickets will be available at the gate where only card payments will be accepted. Tickets will be more expensive there at €12 for adults and €6 for juniors so best value is to purchase in advance at https://www.connachtrugby.ie/club-and-school-finals-tickets/
Car parking is limited at the Sportsground and is “pay and display”. Let’s see big support for Buccaneers at the final when they square up to league champions Ballina. Note kick-off time is 1 p.m.