BUCCANEERS 27 CORINTHIANS 15
BUCCANEERS advanced to their third successive Bank of Ireland Connacht Senior Cup final by virtue of a hard-earned 27-15 victory over Galway Corinthians at a bright, crisp Dubarry Park on Saturday. Buccs led from start to finish but found it difficult to shake off their western opponents in a keenly contested duel in near ideal conditions with no breeze for the players to contend with and the pitch standing up well despite the recent deluges.
Both teams were missing regulars for this first match of 2024, the Pirates short five of their crew that started against Blackrock College last time out. Orrin Burgess and Mark Earle returned in the backline with three rookies – Fionn McDonnell, Oisin Dolan and debutant Finian Murray – starting in their pack.
The Athlone side made a perfect start following an early penalty punted to the scoreboard corner. Danny Qualter won the resultant lineout and Cian McCann burst towards the opposition line but was held up just short. However, he presented the ball for the supporting Ryan O’Meara who powered through the cover for a 2nd minute try converted by Michael Hanley.
Six minutes later the visitors got good territory in similar fashion. Following a lineout on the left they went through a series of phases from left to right before Sean Fox’s strength got him over the home line for an unconverted try. Buccs had the next scoring chance when they turned over possession and a swift counter attack saw Burgess hauled down just short and the strong-running winger was next denied a try due to a foot in touch.
The Pirates maintained their pressure and, following a penalty for a close-in high tackle, they opted for a scrum after which Stephen Mannion’s long skipped pass sent Earle over at the left corner for a 21st minute unconverted try. The midlanders then almost repeated their first try move but were held up over the Corinthians line. However, in a near replica situation Buccs made no mistake on 33 minutes, this time slipping possession to Earle on the left who darted in for his second try which was surprisingly not converted.
With their pack dominating, Buccaneers were in firm control of the proceedings but Corinthians were granted a lifeline when Harry Rogers intercepted near his own 22 and he had the legs to get all the way to touch down at the uprights for an opportunist try. Dylan Keane converted with the final action of the half at which stage Buccs lead was tighter than it should have been at 17-12.
Corinthians were a rejuvenated force following the change of ends and they pinned Buccs inside the home half for most of the third quarter. But the Shannonsiders defence stood up to all that the visitors could muster, even when Mannion was in the sin-bin for a wayward tackle. On his return to the action he made a crucial tackle to shunt Michael O’Reilly into touch just before the hour mark while Burgess was another whose tackling was teak-tough.
The hosts utilised their bench in the final quarter and Tom Shine and McDonnell made good ground to earn a central penalty on 71 minutes. Buccs prudently opted to kick with Hanley putting them two scores to the good with time running out. Corinthians responded with a similar score by Keane to leave 5 points between the teams with 4 minutes to go.
But Buccaneers sealed their progress to the decider with the score of the match. Following a scrum on the visitors’ 10-metre line, Leo MacFarlane popped the ball to Burgess and he absolutely powered through a handful of tackles to dive over for a superb solo try at The Bounty corner. Hanley’s fine conversion completed the scoring and the action with Buccaneers victorious on a 27-15 scoreline.
The outcome was in the balance right to the finish and Buccs may be a little flattered by the margin. But their superior ability to finish when in scoring positions made the difference while their forwards, dominant in the set-pieces, denied Corinthians the quick ball that they thrive on. Overall, a decent workmanlike all-round performance from the winners for whom Burgess was star of the show. Earle’s will be pleased with his brace of tries following recent injury disruptions and U-20 Murray acquitted himself well over the hour of his first Senior start.
BUCCANEERS:- C.O’Shaughnessy; O.Burgess, S.Layden (captain), S.Mannion, M.Earle; M.Hanley, L.MacFarlane; J.Kelly, O.Dolan, F.Murray; F.McDonnell, D.Qualter; R.O’Meara, C.Walsh and C.McCann. Replacements:- T.Shine (for O’Shaughnessy, 46 mins), M.Staunton (for Murray, 60 mins), G.Daly (for Walsh, 60 mins), L.Balsiger (for O’Meara, 69 mins), C.Morrissey (for Dolan, 69 mins), J.Nagle and C.Daly.
CORINTHIANS:- O.Burke; M.O’Reilly, S.Fox, T.Waters, F.MacCearra; D.Keane, J.Tierney; P.Fahy, A.Nash, A.Burke; G.Kilkelly, R.van Rensburg; D.Fitzpatrick, P.Flannery and M.Boyle (captain). Replacements:- E.Oifoh, J.Hughes, M.Garcia Peret, G.Murray, K.Brennan, H.Rogers and H.Sheridan.
Referee:- Shane Touhy (Connacht).