BUCCANEERS maintained their winning ways with a 19-10 Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B victory over University College Cork at a sunny Mardyke Arena on Saturday. But it came at a steep cost with injuries to a trio of key players whilst the failure to add a bonus point that looked there for the taking early in the second half means that the midlanders slip a point behind new league leaders City of Armagh.

Apart from a diagonal breeze playing conditions were near perfect at this ‘old school’ style ground. The contest flowed from start to finish between two youthful and exuberant sides, both now tutored by former Connacht head coaches. Buccs made one change from the team that defeated St. Mary’s College last time out, James Kelly replacing Matthew Burke in the front row. UCC brought Munster hooker Scott Buckley and Ireland U-20’s backrower Jacob Sheahan into their pack where Daniel McCarthy was also recalled while Darragh French replaced Johnny Murphy in their backline. George Clancy, who refereed Buccaneers against Highfield, was again the man with the whistle on this latest visit to Cork.

On a bright afternoon, UCC had first benefit of the wind but Buccs made the early running and they coughed up two penalties in promising positions. However, following a good clearout by Saul O’Carroll, he linked with Shane Jennings who sent Shane Layden scampering away to finish off a slick counter-attack for a 7th minute try converted by Michael Hanley.

UCC responded, probing the width of the pitch. Louis Bruce was first to threaten but Buccs got over the home captain to win a relieving penalty and then, following a College penalty to touch near the Pirates right corner, the midlanders shunted the Students maul into touch. At the end of the opening quarter, Sheahan was sin-binned for a dump tackle on Josh O’Connor. The Buccaneers winger then looked like adding to his try tally but Ciaran Booth’s pass was ruled forward.

UCC could have been down to 13 players after 23 minutes when Buckley was guilty of a near replica dump tackle but referee Glancy did not produce a second yellow card, instead doling out a lengthy lecture to the offender and his team captain. Buccs strove manfully to capitalise on their extra man and, after Will Reilly had gathered a teasing kick ahead, as Oisin McCormack surged forward the flanker pulled up with a hamstring injury. Ryan O’Meara was his 25th minute replacement and one minute later the Athlone side notched their second try.

As Buccs piled on pressure, Cian McCann won lineout possession close to the UCC right corner. The Pirates pack drove forward to the home line where Stephen Mannion arced around from behind his forwards to crash over for an unconverted 26th minute try and a 12-0 advantage.
College opened their account with a 34th minute Daniel Squires penalty after the Shannonsiders were penalised for a latching offence. They finished the half on the offensive with a Reilly knock-on giving them promising territory but the Buccaneers defence held firm to lead 12-3 at halftime.

Four minutes into the second half, Jennings burst forward to outflank the home cover and he careered through for a wonderful try converted by Hanley. Buccs were now in the driving seat and with the wind at their backs looked good toad to their tally.

Buccaneers defence was virtually impenetrable until the 49th minute when Bruce found a gap to send Adrien Brien in for a try converted by Squires. McCann incurred a yellow card with a wild tackle as he endeavoured to prevent the touchdown. With a wrist injury forcing Layden off at this stage, Buccs were now temporarily down a player and missing two of their more influential performers through injury. Tom Shine came in at centre while Oisin Dolan had replaced Kelly earlier and Sean O’Connell was introduced in place of O’Meara.

The midlanders now struggled against a resurgent College outfit, who found profit in chipping over the Pirates rearguard. But Buccs continued to work hard with commitment and discipline, Jennings putting a try-saving tackle late in the contest that denied UCC what would surely have been a losing bonus point.

Overall, Buccaneers will be pleased to win at a ground that has not always been kind to their efforts. Their defensive input was generally very good but they lost their way in the second half with injuries to leaders a key factor. Two of their tries were first class but the lineout remains problematic. Jennings was the top performer in the backline where Mannion also had a good outing. Lineout throws apart, Lombard was effective in the forwards battle with solid support from Ruairi Byrne and Danny Qualter. Meanwhile, UCC will ponder a missed opportunity not to have salvaged something from this game.

UCC:- L.Bruce (captain); S.Condon, K.Coghlan, D.Squires, D.French; D.Whooley, I.Rodriguez; R.Duggan, S.Buckley, D.McCarthy; A.Brien, M.Bissenar; S.O’Sullivan, J.Sheahan and P.McBarron. Replacements:- J.O’Sullivan (for McBarron, 26 mins), P.McBarron (for J.O’Sullivan, inj.29 mins), C.Hanlon (for McCarthy, 63 mins), O.Young (for Rodriguez, 63 mins), J.Murphy (for Bruce, 69 mins), M.Cogan (for Brien, 69 mins) and L.McAuliffe.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Jennings; J.O’Connor, S.Layden, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; M.Hanley, W.Reilly; J.Kelly, S.Lombard, M.Staunton (captain); R.Byrne, D.Qualter; O.McCormack, C.McCann and C.Booth. Replacements:- R.O’Meara (for McCormack, inj. 26 mins), O.Dolan (for Kelly, 45 mins), T.Shine (for Layden, inj. 50 mins), S.O’Connell (for O’Meara, 63 mins), F.McDonnell (for McCann, 67 mins), R.O’Meara (for Staunton, 67 mins) and R.Murphy-Sweeney.

Referee:- George Clancy (IRFU).