BUCCANEERS SECONDS are closing the gap on serial winners Connemara but they will view this narrow 20-17 Connacht Junior 1A defeat under the Dubarry Park floodlights on Saturday night as an opportunity missed. Although much smaller, the home pack gave as good as they got for long spells and the backline was inventive on occasion but, overall, the Pirates just lacked a little bit of nous that would have yielded victory.

Starting with only six survivors from last season’s Junior Cup final, Buccs ambitions were also thwarted by injuries to a number of key players early in this duel. Meanwhile the Blacks were more or less at full strength and they opened the scoring with an early penalty by Ian Staunton.

But the younger Buccs responded well and their enterprising attacking yielded a Cathal O’Grady try converted by Andrew Evans. Connemara regained the lead when a home clearance failed to make touch and they counter attacked with skipper Staunton scoring an unconverted try.

In the final move of the half, the Pirates opted not to kick a ‘gimme’ penalty from in front of the posts and their brave pick and go was rewarded when the returning Ryan O’Meara surged over for a try which Evans converted to put the Athlone side 14-8 ahead at half-time.

Buccs were twice unlucky soon after the change of ends on a mild calm evening. Evans saw a penalty kick tail fractionally wide while Rory O’Connor was harshly whistled back for a dubious offside as he ran on to Evans chip over the cover.
Connemara were soon back in front again when a period of pressure was finished off by Michael O’Toole for a try converted by Staunton. But Buccs refused to wilt and the Blacks conceded a number of penalties in quick succession including a couple of high tackles and a deliberate knock-on that eventually saw Mark Joyce sin-binned.

The exchanges were now of a ding-dong variety and an Evans penalty edged Buccs back in front before Staunton scored his second unconverted try for the visitors in the closing minutes. Another debateable decision deemed a pass by O’Connor to be forward and so Connemara held on for their slim win that moves them up to third in the table.

But Buccaneers can take many positives from this match with Curley, Fergus Galvin, James Kelly, O’Connell and Darren Browne putting in stalwart efforts in the forwards battle. Eoin O’Reilly, Harry Balsiger and O’Connor were best of a lively backs unit but Buccs, disrupted by those injuries, just came up short. However, they can take confidence from this performance and regroup to revitalise their campaign.

BUCCANEERS:- A.Flanagan; R.Murphy-Sweeney, C.FitzGibbon, R.Teape, H.Balsiger; A.Evans, E.O’Reilly; J.Kelly (captain), D.Browne, S.O’Connell; F.Galvin, C.O’Grady; T.Curley, B.Fagan and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- C.Walsh (for Fagan), R.O’Connor (for O’Grady), B.Fagan (for O’Meara), E.Gallagher (for Teape), C.Fokam (for O’Connell), S.Flynn (for O’Reilly), S.O’Connell (for Curley), E.O’Reilly (for Flanagan) and T.Curley (for Fagan).

CONNEMARA:- H.O’Toole; E.Griffiths, E.Bourke, M.Joyce, M.Conneely; I.Heanue, M.O’Toole; E.Conroy, I.Staunton (captain), F.Heffernan; R.Conneely, D.O’Reilly; T.Mullen, P.Lee and T.Berry. Replacements:- C.Higgins, M.Mullins, K.Roberts, D.Roche and B.Keane.

Referee:- Michael Honan (Connacht).