Despite a significantly improved display, Buccaneers came up short against a strong Old Belvedere side who edged a greatly entertaining Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B encounter at Ollie Campbell Park, Dublin, on Sunday. After a defiant display, the Pirates had to settle for a try bonus point, Belvo’s final move touchdown denying the visitors a losing bonus point on a 36-28 scoreline.

Buccs made four changes for the trip to the capital. Daniel Hawkshaw returned in the centre after an injury lay-off in place of the injured Orrin Burgess. James Kelly and Matthew Burke (barely recognisable with the hair shorn and the beard gone!) resumed front row duty while U-20 Fionn McDonnell started at lock. Apart from a couple of positional changes in their pack, Old Belvedere had the luxury of fielding an unchanged starting XV.

There was a positivity about Buccs performance after an early scare when the hosts almost profited from a blockdown but Tom Shine did enough to force James Doyle to knock on. The midlanders took the game to their opponents to apply a spell of pressure and, following a tap and go penalty, Cian McCann burst over for the opening score after 9 minutes.

Five minutes later Buccaneers made ground again via a couple of penalties with another tap and go being repelled initially before a skipped pass to Shine, hugging the touchline, was finished in style by the young back. Mark Earle converted both tries, the second from wide on the left, for a 14-0 lead.

Old Belvedere responded to this unexpected state of affairs with Joe White dotting down four minutes later for an unconverted try. More costly to Buccs was a shoulder injury incurred by McCann trying to prevent the touchdown with Gavin Daly replacing the Pirates most consistent player. But the Athlone side continued to give it their best shot and they took a leaf out of an old Connacht ploy with backs joining in at a lineout on the left. Winning possession, they mauled over the home line where Charlie Ward applied the finishing touch and Earle landed another fine conversion for a 21-5 lead on the half-hour.

But Belvo struck twice in the closing minutes of the opening half. They had a significant slice of good fortune with a 36th minute chip over the cover bouncing wickedly away from the covering Josh O’Connor and Ariel Robles took full advantage to dot down between the uprights and Michael O’Kennedy added the straight-forward conversion. Buccs restart went dead, enabling the hosts to relaunch an attack and when they moved the ball to the right Jayden Beckett notched an unconverted try that reduced their arrears to 21-17 at the interval.

The Leinster club restarted the second half as they had finished the first, putting the midlanders on the back foot. They were held up twice at the line and Daly was yellow carded as the pressure grew. Following a Robles snipe the ball was spread to the right where O’Kennedy finished for a 50th minute try that he was unable to convert but it gave Old Belvedere the lead for the first time.

Buccs remained in the contest and, following a lineout on the right at halfway, a chip over the cover bounced favourably for O’Connor this time and he danced his way through for a 56th minute bonus point try converted by Earle. Buccs survived a knock-on from the restart with Burke using his strength to clear the danger. The Pirates almost profited when an Old Belvedere lineout went awry and Matthew Victory surged forward but possession was kicked away when patience seemed the better option.

The Shannonsiders then suffered a double whammy when Fergus Galvin was sin-binned as Buccs brought down a maul and referee Stuart Gaffikin awarded a penalty try to the hosts to restore their single point lead. Then in the final move of an absorbing contest, Paddy Dowling grounded the ball following a maul for Old Belvedere’s sixth try with O’Kennedy’s conversion denying a losing bonus point for the visitors.
Victory kept the metropolitans firmly in the promotion hunt on the day the club celebrated Ollie Campbell’s 70th birthday. This was Buccaneers best display for some time and they deserved more from their endeavours with the injury to McCann, which rules him out for the rest of the season, adding to their disappointment. Burke and O’Connor were Buccs top performers as the side displayed the potential that is there which, had it been shown more consistently through the season, would surely mean that they would not now be in the relegation mire.

OLD BELVEDERE:- J.White; G.Nugent, J.Beckett, M.O’Kennedy (captain), A.Robles; D.Wilkinson, S.Fitzpatrick; J.Barrett, C.Dowling, H.Flood; F.McWey, K.Thatcher; J.Doyle, T.Mulcair and P.Dowling. Replacements:- C.Owende (for Thatcher, inj. 31 mins), H.Hogan (for Barrett, 31 mins), J.Barrett (for H.Flood, 54 mins), C.Cunningham (for Dowling, 60 mins), F.Flood (for Nugent, 56 mins), E.Tyndall and R.Jordan.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Mannion; J.O’Connor, S.Layden, D.Hackshaw, T.Shine; M.Earle, F.Hopkins (captain); J.Kelly, M.Victory, M.Burke; F.Galvin, F.McDonnell; R.O’Meara, C.Walsh and C.McCann. Replacements:- G.Daly (for McCann, inj. 18 mins), C.Ward (for Kelly, 23 mins), M.Staunton (for Burke, 61 mins), M.Hanley (for Hawkshaw, 61 mins), J.Kelly (for Ward, 61 mins), M.Burke (for Staunton, 76 mins), C.Ward (for Kelly, 76 mins) and L.MacFarlane.

Referee:- Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU).