BUCCANEERS face a tough assignment away to St. Mary’s College in their opening fixture of the new Energia All-Ireland League season when the action kicks-off at Templeville Road on Saturday at 2.30 p.m.

St. Mary’s have had a busy run of fixtures ahead of the AIL, some friendlies followed by a trio of Leinster Senior Cup games where they defeated Clontarf but lost to UCD and then narrowly to Lansdowne. So they may be that bit more battle-hardened than the midlanders who had mixed performances in the Connacht Senior League.

Former Ireland hooker Sean Cronin continues as head coach at the south Dublin outfit captained by Ronan Watters. Flanker Ethan Baxter and young lock Daniel Leane are vital cogs in their pack. Placekicker Mick O’Gara is as reliable as they come and he is joined in the metropolitans backline by ex-Young Munster’s Conor Hayes.

Following the departure of Eddie O’Sullivan the Pirates have a new coaching team at the helm led by Paul Byrne. The Athlone club, skippered this term by Frank Hopkins, rotated and experimented with their mainly young squad in the Connacht League. Last season’s player of the year Ruairi Byrne and sterling servant Martin Staunton have retired while Saul O’Carroll, Ciaran Booth and Steveni Lombard are among departures. Backs Mark Earle and Conor O’Shaughnessy are the main arrivals at Dubarry Park while Buccs will look to Danny Qualter in the pack and Shane Layden in the backline for leadership. Following an injury ruined season, Charlie Ward could return in the front row where Matthew Victory may debut.

Youth will be given its fling with Stephen Mannion, Michael Hanley, Ryan O’Meara, Cian McCann, James Kelly, Sean O’Connell and Fergus Galvin sure to feature. Josh O’Connor and Daniel Hawkshaw are likely starters in the backline while U-20 duo Fionn McDonnell and Oisin Dolan could be involved although they have a crunch Connacht decider on Sunday.

Buccaneers did a double over St. Mary’s last season, their away win being one of their best performances of the campaign. The Blues will be smarting from those setbacks and keen to lay down a marker on Saturday in what should be an intriguing contest.