BUCCANEERS suffered their heaviest defeat of the season as University College Cork proved too slick and clinical when winning this Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B encounter 48-7 at The Mardyke on Saturday. On a bright fresh afternoon, the Students taught a depleted Athlone side a lesson in taking chances with defeat for the Pirates confirming their relegation to 2A while victory for College secured their 1B status.

Buccs misfortune continued prior to this encounter with Cathal Walsh and the very consistent Matthew Victory being additions to an extensive list of absentees. Consequently, the midlanders were much-changed from last week’s game with no less than six personnel changes, five of them forwards. This included a whole new backrow trio in a greatly depleted pack. Meanwhile, UCC replaced injured skipper Louis Bruce with Ireland U-20 starlet Ben O’Connor at fullback in a fairly settled squad.

College had first benefit of the cool wind and were very quickly on the scoreboard. Buccs lost possession at halfway and winger Tom Coughlan was swiftest to get to the ball when they kicked ahead to notch a 5th minute try converted by Cian Whooley. Seven minutes later their already dominant maul made progress following a penalty to the right and Jacob Sheahan applied the finishing touch near the uprights for a try with Whooley adding the extras.

Shane Layden looked like retorting for Buccs when he broke forward on 18 minutes but the referee had spotted a knock-on before he got possession. This led to another scrum, a setpiece where UCC clearly held the upper hand, from which Jack O’Sullivan broke easing past a weak tackle by Orrin Burgess for an unconverted try wide on the right. This gave the Students a 19-0 advantage by the end of the opening quarter.

Buccs fared much better in the second quarter, helped by improved retention of the ball with the strong-running Burgess coming closest to scoring, being held up short of the home line. It looked like the midlanders would get to the interval without incurring further damage but a knock-on in midfield by Layden proved costly. UCC earned a penalty from the resultant scrum and this got them promising territory on Buccs 22. From there they went through a series of pick and goes following the lineout and Adam Wrona secured their bonus point try in this final move of the half at which stage the Shannonsiders trailed 24-0.

Whooley stretched UCC’s advantage with a 42nd minute penalty but Buccs had the better of the exchanges in the third quarter, putting some promising moves together. The best of these followed a sweeping 48th minute run by Josh O’Connor that ended with Daniel McCarthy’s thumping tackle denying Layden getting the ball down on the home line. Four minutes later, Mark Earle was quickest to react to Daniel Hawkshaw’s chip over the cover but his grubber kick ahead was much too strong and went over the deadball line, thus another try opportunity was not taken.

Just before the hour mark Andrew O’Mahony dotted down between the posts before exquisite handling by O’Connor sent substitute Daniel Kiely away for a 63rd minute try. Five minutes later following a turnover, Jack O’Sullivan scampered away to nab his second try. Daniel Squires converted all three tries to push UCC 48-0 ahead.

Although outgunned, Buccs continued to battle and finally got some reward that their efforts merited. A quick throw-in saw Burgess make ground and he linked with Fionn McDonnell whose offload was finished by Burgess for a smartly taken score. Earle duly converted to complete the 48-7 scoreline.

UCC, who needed victory to be absolutely safe, played most of the swash-buckling rugby against the weakened Pirates crew for whom Hawkshaw, O’Connor and Frank Hopkins did their utmost to stem the tide.

UCC:- B.O’Connor; S.Condon, D.Squires, P.O’Sullivan, T.Coughlan; C.Whooley, A.O’Mahony; M.Cogan, A.Wrona, D.McCarthy; C.Ryan, S.O’Sullivan (captain); S.Edogbo, J.Sheahan and J.O’Sullivan. Replacements:- J.Aherne (for Ryan, 50 mins), L.McAuliffe (for Wrona, 60 mins), A.Hamilton (for McCarthy, 60 mins), P.Hyland (for Edogbo, 60 mins), P.Gaffney (for Whooley, 60 mins), D.Kelly (for Condon, 60 mins), D.McCarthy (for Cogan, 70 mins) and S.Condon (for Squires, 73 mins).

BUCCANEERS:- S.Mannion; J.O’Connor, S.Layden, D.Hawkshaw, O.Burgess; M.Earle, F.Hopkins (captain); J.Kelly, D.Bolger, M.Burke; F.Galvin, F.McDonnell; O.Dolan, G.Daly and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- C.Morrissey (for Bolger, h/t), F.Murray (for Kelly, 59 mins), M.Staunton (for Dolan, 59 mins), J.Nagle (for Burgess, 59 mins), L.MacFarlane (for Hopkins, 65 mins), O.Burges (for O’Meara, 65 mins), M.Hanley (for Mannion, 69 mins) and R.O’Meara (for Daly, 74 mins).

Referee:- Max Weston (IRFU).