Buccaneers U-17s continued the youth teams winning streak of the U-15s and U-16s in capturing the Bank of Ireland Connacht U-17 Cup on Sunday at Galway Sportsground. In a tight affair the Buccaneers left it to the last 10 minutes to pull away from Corinthians and win 27-15.

A strong wind dominated both halves, with the wind blowing towards the Lough Atalia end of the Sportsground. Buccaneers kicked off and spent the opening 10 minutes dominating their counterparts. Relentless pressure from the backrow of Oteaga Awhinawhi, Joshua McCormack and Callum Kelly kept Corinthians pinned in their half. Handling errors from the Buccs backline and the occasional penalty conceded upfront allowed a reprieve for Corinthians, who used the wind to exit from their half.

After some loose play by the Buccaneers backline, Corinthians using the wind kicked into the Pirates 22m. Despite some excellent defence by Buccs, Corinthians centre Christian Joyce handed off and went through to score under the posts, out half Finnan Strain adding the conversion. Buccaneers regrouped and applied more pressure with Tom Bourke replacing Awhinawhi, who was suffering from an illness.

On the 25th minute, centre Tom Sheehan made a line break, the forwards took over and made yardage through some impressive rucking, creating an overlap. Unfortunately, out half Conor Naughton was unable to hit full back Dylan Bruton with a pullback pass which would have led to the opening score. A few minutes later, Corinthians had a scrum on their 10m line. After considerable pressure by the Buccs front five, the Galway side’s pack went backwards and scrumhalf Charlie O’Carroll pounced on the ball to claim a turnover. A clean out from Bourke allowed quick ball along the back line with centre Thomas Cotton getting over the offside line. Another ruck saw Eoin Naughton powering onto the ball, breaking the defensive line and making 10m. Second rows James Heaslip and Rian Claffey cleared the ruck with venom and pace, allowing O’Carroll to move play to the blindside where Bourke made more yards. With Evan McMicken, Nathan Downes and flanker McCormack clearing out at the ruck and providing fast ball, O’Carroll saw a gap and ran into the opposition 22m. The Corinthians full back advanced, but O’Carroll timed his pass to the supporting Sheehan perfectly and the centre scored under the posts, O’Carroll adding the extras. Corinthians responded immediately and were awarded a penalty on the Buccs 22m for knocking the ball out of the scrumhalf’s hands at a ruck. Strain converted the penalty closing the half 10-7 in favour of Corinthians.

Corinthians kicked off the second half and must still have been thinking about their team talk, when Buccs captain and No. 8 Kelly gathered the kick off just outside his 22m. Spotting a gap he raced clear, handing off the Corinthians out half Strain, galloping towards the try line. Corinthians centre Dylan McDonagh and fullback Robert Dolan, managed to get back in defence and stop Kelly 5m short of the try line. After quick ruck ball, O’Carroll went the wrong side and sent a skip pass to Bourke on the wing, which was turned over, allowing Corinthians a reprieve. The Buccs back line was loaded on the open side with a 2 man overlap, opportunity wasted.

3 minutes later, the Athlone standard bearers had a scrum on the Corinthians 22m on the right-hand side. Buccs ran a move from the scrum with Conor Naughton running an effective dummy line, which confused Corinthians allowing Cotton to make a break, evading two tackles to score. O’Carroll was unable to convert but Buccs now led 12-10. After the restart Buccs kicked deep into the Corinthians half where the city side went for a quick lineout. Pressure from Downes and Joshua McCormack pinned Corinthians on their 22m, with Downes making the tackle. Sheehan was first to the ruck and over the ball, forcing Corinthians to concede a penalty which O’Carroll converted to increase the lead to 15-10. David Gavin now came on for Claffey.

With 20 mins left Corinthians weren’t done. After working hard to set up a ruck, Buccaneers attacked the blindside from their 22m, instead of kicking for territory and a dropped pass from Eoin Naughton to Bourke allowed Corinthians have a scrum on the 10m line. Corinthians kept sending forward runners into the Buccaneers defence, which stood up to the challenge. Some poor refereeing decisions allowed Corinthians into the Buccs 22m, a blatant crooked throw off a lineout by Corinthians, followed by a 2m forward pass went unseen by the match officials! These refereeing mistakes allowed Corinthians to creep towards the Buccs try line. After some rucks Corinthians spread the ball wide to score an unconverted try in the corner.

With 15 minutes remaining the game was on a knife edge at 15-15. Corinthians infringed on the Buccs half and Sheehan kicked the ensuing penalty into the Corinthian 22m. Unbelievably the referee adjudicated a crooked lineout against Buccs, allowing Corinthians an easy exit. With the strong wind against them, Corinthians opted for a scrum on their 5m line. But the Buccs pack put in a huge shove, forcing Corinthians No. 8 to pick. Backrower McCormack hit him hard and skipper Kelly was quick on the ball to secure a penalty to Buccs for the player not releasing.

The Buccs boys showed great bravery, with time running out and the scores equal, opting for a scrum instead of the penalty kick. A pre-arranged move was called. Sheehan moved to flyhalf and received the ball, with Conor Naughton running a dummy line and attracting defenders. Sheehan passed to Cotton, who offloaded to Bruton. Although the Corinthians defence was fast, Bruton managed to get his pass to blindside winger Conor Dowling who beat two covering tackles to score in the far corner. O’Carroll added the conversion from far out, with a little help off the upright, bringing the score to 22-15 in favour of the midlanders.

Corinthians kicked off and tried to get a foothold in the Buccaneers half but the Athlone boys were resolute in defence. After absorbing the Corinthians onslaught Buccs forced a knock on and were awarded a scrum. Buccs relieved the pressure and set up camp in the Corinthians half. The superior Buccaneers scrum made it difficult for the Corinthians scrumhalf to get clean ball away. With 5 minutes left, Corinthians had a scrum on their 10m line, the Pirates forwards applied pressure and the backline flew up with winger Lorcan McCormack making a man and ball tackle on centre Christian Joyce, ripping the ball off him. McCormack advanced to inside the opposition 22m before being tackled. A quick clear out from Conor Naughton and Cotton saw O’Carroll move the ball to Bourke who passed to Bruton drawing the last defender to allow Sheehan to score his second try of the day in the corner. O’Carroll missed the conversion, but the Shannonsiders now had a clear 27-15 advantage.

With a few minutes left Buccs made some substitutions bringing on Jacques Bourdon and Brandon Conroy. Corinthians attacked from the kick-off but the Buccs defence was solid. Buccaneers emerged victorious after a bruising encounter, victory being all the sweeter following their narrow defeat to Corinthians in last year’s U-16 decider.

BUCCANEERS:- D.Bruton; L.McCormack, T.Sheehan, T.Cotton, C.Dowling; C.Naughton, C.O’Carroll; N.Downes, E.Naughton, E.McMickan; J.Heaslip, R.Claffey; O.Awhinawhi, J.McCormack and C.Kelly (captain). Replacements used:- T.Bourke, D.Gavin, J.Bourdon and B.Conroy.

Referee:- Kevin Bolger (Connacht).