BUCCANEERS proved much too strong for champions Ballina with the midlanders romping to a 51-14 Connacht Senior League victory at Heffernan Park on Saturday. Buccs were in control from start to finish on the impressive 4G surface and, inspired by a quartet of tries by Saul O’Carroll, had the bonus point in the bag long before halftime on a warm, bright afternoon.

The visitors started with 9 players who featured in their home defeat last season by the north-westerners but the Mayo side had only 2 survivors from that surprise victory. Although facing the breeze, Buccs enjoyed early territory that eventually yielded a 9th minute try when play went through phases from right to left where O’Carroll opened the scoring with the first of his four tries, all scored in the opening half.

Ballina responded with a try within 4 minutes, Ronan Connolly’s conversion edging them 7-5 ahead. Buccs retorted equally swiftly with a slick move involving Ruadhri Fallon, O’Carroll and Shane Layden being finished off by Tom Shine near the posts. Michael Hanley added the conversion. Another smart handling attack along the left on 25 minutes saw Shine send O’Carroll over for his second try converted by Hanley.

Within a further two minutes, Buccs had secured their bonus point when O’Carroll weaved his way along the left flank to complete his hat-trick and a 24-7 lead. Ballina replied just after the half-hour mark when Buccs were guilty of some sloppy defending and Connolly’s conversion narrowed their arrears to 24-14.

Five minutes later Darren Browne peeled away from a fine maul to notch a blindside try, Hanley hitting a second conversion off an upright. In the final move of the half, after hooker Browne was held out on the right corner, O’Carroll bagged his fourth touchdown on the opposite flank to give the Athlone side a commanding 34-14 advantage at the interval.

Within a minute of the change of ends, Rory O’Connor started and finished a raid to stretch Buccs lead with their seventh try. Hanley converted and was content to land a neat drop goal soon afterwards following further promising pressure by the Athlone side. As the game entered the final quarter Layden powered through for a try with Hanley’s conversion completing the scoring. Thereafter the tempo and focus dropped noticeably and the Pirates were able to give First team experience to younsters Orrin Burgess, Dara Fitzgerald and Harry Balsiger as they put the Greens to the sword.

In the backline O’Carroll’s try-scoring spree really caught the eye and Layden excelled while Danny Qualter, who lorded the lineouts, was the leading figure in the forwards exchanges.

BALLINA:- I.West; M.Collins, C.Anderson, R.Molloy, M.O’Dowd; R.Connolly, B.Mahony; D.Donegan, B.McVann, B.Boland; B.O’Leary, M.Finnerty; E.Duffy, J.Doherty and C.Mason. Replacements:- E.Preston, L.Cronin, G.McKenna, C.Boyce and K.Howley.

BUCCANEERS:- R.Fallon; R.O’Connor, S.Layden, T.Shine, S.O’Carroll; M.Hanley, A.Flanagan; J.Kelly, D.Browne, M.Staunton (captain); C.McCann, F.Galvin; S.O’Connell, G.Daly and D.Qualter. Replacments:- F.McDonnell (for O’Connell, h/t), O.Burgess (for Shine, 60 mins), H.Balsiger (for O’Connor, 60 mins), D.Fitzgerald (for McCann, 65 mins), S.O’Connell (for Staunton, 68 mins) and R.Grenham.

Referee:- Shane Gaughan (Connacht).