U-16’s win Connacht League title


BUCCANEERS captured the Connacht U-16 League title with a hard-earned but truly deserved 13-8 final victory over Sligo at Heffernan Park, Ballina, on Sunday. Assisted by the breeze in the opening half, Buccs led 13-5 at the interval and dug deep to protect their advantage in a well-contested decider.

Buccaneers and Sligo served up a classic final showpiece, with a high level of skill and intensity, with end to end rugby, that never let up for the entire game. Buccs struck first following a scrum just inside the Sligo 22 their captain Kyle Byrne went on a barnstorming run that sucked in a number of the defenders. The ball was passed slickly through the back line reaching Andrew Henson who showed power and pace to stretch over the Sligo line and the fullback was unfortunate to miss the conversion. Sligo came back at Buccs with pace and intensity, putting great width on their game, and they made a number of raids inside the Pirates 22 but were thwarted by excellent Buccs defence. However, Sligo’s ability to hold on to the ball forced the Athlonians to stray offside. From the resulting penalty Sligo very cleverly tapped and went, shaping for a forward carry but instead went out the back and very slick handling resulted in an unconverted try in the corner.

Buccs made inroads through good carries by No.8 Byrne, Stephen O’Connor and Kailin Blessing, in particular, coupled with good lines of running from Henson, Kyle Mahon and Eoin McCormack, pinning Sligo back. Sligo infringed at a ruck just outside their 22 and Henson was on hand to slot the 3 points. From the resulting drop-off deep into Buccs 22 Byrne gathered and marauded forward, the ball quickly recycled and Brian Doyle released his backs down left touchline. Mahon showed lovely feet and an audacious offload to Luke Marjanovic who scorched down the wing. When the cover got to him he delivered a wonderful one handed offload back into the supporting Blessing who carried deep into the Sligo 22 where he was eventually dragged down. Quick ruck ball allowed Byrne to carry effectively beyond the gainline, Doyle was on hand again to release his backs and with excellent hands through the centres the ball arrived into Henson’s hands. He sold an outrageous dummy to send the defence hurtling one way while he cut back in and showed his tremendous pace and strength to score in the same corner. Henson was extremely unlucky that his conversion bounced off the crossbar and wide. This soon brought a close to a breathless first with Buccaneers 13-5 ahead.

Similar to the Ireland/France game the previous day the second half became a more cagey affair. Sligo came out in a very determined mood but Buccs were not found wanting as they rolled up their collective sleeves to repel the Sligo efforts. Sligo got the opportunity midway through the second half to slot a penalty for a 5 point gap and set up a grandstand finish.

The ball switched hands numerous times during a frenetic last 10 mins with each team enjoying brief spells of superiority. Buccs ability to go multiphase and hold on to the ball as well as a mean defence denied opportunities for their opponents. Buccs held on and held out for a very merited victory against a quality Sligo.

Buccs having succumbed to Sligo in both the league and cup finals last year, were understandably overjoyed at the final whistle. Buccs victory was founded on a tough forward battle where Blessing and Byrne shone, along with the tireless work of Conor McCormack who excelled at the breakdown. In the backs the halfbacks of Diarmaid Lyons and Doyle orchestrated matters with Mahon and Eoin McCormack looking threatening with ball in hand. But final word must go to the outstanding Andrew Henson at full back, who scored all Buccaneers points; he was a constant threat on the ball and rock solid defensively throughout. The League trophy was presented on behalf of Connacht Rugby by Deirdre Whyte to victorious Buccaneers captain Kyle Byrne. Congratulations to all the players in the squad and their mentors Paul Byrne, David Dunning, Karl Henson, Wesley Hudson and Pete Mahon.

Footnote:-This scribe is puzzled that Ballina was selected as venue, being only 60km from Sligo but over twice that from Athlone at 130km away?

BUCCANEERS:- A.Henson; D.Burke, E.McCormack, K.Mahon, L.Marjanovic; B.Doyle, D.Lyons; K.Blessing, E.Rooney-Digan, D.O’Leochain; R.Heaslip, T.Mason; S.O’Connor, C.McCormack and K.Byrne (captain). Replacements:- I.Jocher, J.O’Reilly, C.Hudson, M.O’Connor, M.Turner, T.Trainor, C.Whitney and S.Duffy.

Referee:- Michael Honan (Connacht).