BUCCANEERS SECONDS and Ballinasloe provided a fitting finale to the Bank of Ireland Connacht Junior 1B League when the teams put in splendid performances in front of a big crowd at sun-drenched Dexcom Stadium on Sunday. This derby showdown was an absolute cracker with the Pirates greater cutting edge and tremendous defending ensuring that they recorded a hat-trick of victories over their neighbours this season. More importantly, the 29-20 victory meant that Buccs have made an immediate return to 1A.

Buccs made just a single change from their equally hard-earned Cup win the previous Sunday with Jensen Nagle returning after injury to man the full-back berth. Ballinasloe rang the changes from that encounter, six in total divided equally between backs and forwards. Aaron McGreal, Darragh Burke and James Mooney started in the backline with Conor Smyth, Niall Staunton and Stephen Grenham beefing up their pack.
Buccs, playing against the breeze up towards the cemetery end, were quickly on the offensive with two early penalties giving them a foothold inside the opposition 22. Darren Browne was hauled down short of the line following a lineout but the Athlone men recycled the ball which reached Ross Murphy-Sweeney. The centre cleverly changed the angle of his run and did very well to stretch over between the uprights for a 4th minute try converted by Gerard Fallon.

Ballinasloe were soon camped in the home half where Fallon made a vital clearance while Niall Cusack’s 10th minute penalty was low and off-target. But they were soon level, Grenham’s strong carry enabling Seamus Egan to romp in for a 12th minute try converted by Cusack to tie the scores 7-7.

It was nip and tuck for a period with a loose pass spoiling a promising Pirates raid while a Blues counter was denied when they held on too long to concede a relieving penalty. Nevertheless, their bulkier side continued to peg Buccs deep in their own half where the Shannonsiders sustained tackling was both immense and disciplined with Cathal O’Grady, Brendan Fagan and especially Robert Teape putting in huge shifts.
Buccs rode out the storm and in the closing stages of the half enjoyed some good territory too. Conor Morrissey and Fagan made telling carries to put Ballinasloe in reverse before slick handling by backs and forwards saw Sam Fogarty pop a neat pass to Harry Hughes on the opposition 22. There is usually only one outcome in such situations and so it was again as Hughes surged through Mooney’s tackle to touch down at the left corner flag. John Why added a super touchline conversion with the final kick of the half to give Buccaneers a 14-7 lead at the interval of a finely balanced joust.

A knock-on shortly after the change of ends gave possession to Ballinasloe on the Buccs 22 and moments later a high tackle was punished by Cusack’s 42nd minute penalty. This encouraged the Moher Road outfit to remain on the offensive and this spell was capitalised on with Grenham’s 47th minute unconverted try wide on the right to edge Ballinasloe 15-14 ahead.

Buccs responded and moved the ball smartly to force a 53rd minute penalty which Why struck sweetly to restore the lead while Cusack’s placekick five minutes later was a poor effort. The Shannonsiders penalty count grew at this juncture and referee Cathal Roddy despatched Buccs substitute Liam Doyle to the sin bin at the hour mark.

As Ballinasloe endeavoured to make their temporary numerical superiority pay, Fagan somehow snaffled possession on his own 22 and took off. It did not seem that the flanker could outpace the defence but his clever angled 80 metre run did just that for a stunning solo unconverted try as the game entered the final quarter with Buccs now 22-15 ahead.

But five minutes later Ballinasloe were gifted a try that narrowed the margin to just two points. Running out of space Burke prodded a grubber kick and three Buccaneers players looked in control of the situation but none of them actually did and the alert Burke followed up to apply a gift-wrapped finish. Now on place-kicking duty, he was unable to convert his own try but a grandstand climax was in prospect.
This could have proved a fatal blow to Buccs aspirations but they continued to give it their all and turned over possession on the Ballinasloe ten metre line. From there they moved the ball slickly with Cameron Rooney-Digan’s offload sending Nagle steaming away and the fullback evaded the efforts of Kyle Blackweir and Staunton to score the killer try. Why landed another magnificent touchline conversion that completed the 29-20 scoreline.

Following the intervention of a touch-judge Burke was yellow carded as Ballinasloe did their utmost to turn the tide in what was a thrilling, fiercely-contested but sporting duel. Staunton and Grenham gave it their all in the forwards battle while Andrew Mannion and Blackweir were Ballinasloe’s most threatening backs. They will rue not converting first half territory onto the scoreboard.
But Buccaneers were better balanced, sharper in the backs unit while their more compact pack dominated the setpieces. It was truly an all-round squad effort in which skipper Morrissey led by example. Fagan was the standout forward with key contributions by O’Grady, Fogarty and Browne. Centre Teape was the star of the match, always making ground in possession and razor sharp in his tackling. Nagle caught the eye and Why asked questions of the opposition following his introduction with Buccs resolute and committed defending aiding their immediate return to 1A.

Connacht President Michael O’Hehir, who rightly said in his speech that it was the best final in recent seasons helped by the referee allowing the game to flow, presented the trophy to winning captain Conor Morrissey with the Bank of Ireland represented by Gemma Costello.

BUCCANEERS:- J.Nagle; H.Balsiger, R.Murphy-Sweeney, R.Teape, H.Hughes; G.Fallon, A.Flanagan; A.M.Obono, C.Morrissey (captain), S.Flynn; C.O’Grady, S.Fogarty; B.Fagan, D.Browne and L.Balsiger. Replacements:- C.Daly (for Obono, 23 mins), J.Why (for Fallon, 29 mins), L.Doyle (for L.Balsiger, 47 mins), J.Scouler (for O’Grady, 53 mins), C.O’Grady (for Flynn, 57 mins), C.Rooney-Digan (for H.Balsiger, 65 mins), L.Balsiger (for Doyle, 69 mins), G.Fallon (for Flanagan, 75 mins) and L.Doyle (for Morrissey, 75 mins).

BALLINASLOE:- N.Cusack; J.Moony, R.Enraght-Moony, K.Blackweir, D.Burke; A.Mannion (captain), A.McGreal; L.Feehily, P.Grehan, C.Smyth; N.Staunton, B.Feeney; M.O’Neill, S.Egan and S.Grenham. Replacements:- C.Harewood (for Feeney, 34 mins), B.Willmore (for Smyth, 48 mins), M.Kelly, R.Wakefield and K.Wieczorek.

Referee:- Cathal Roddy (Connacht).