BUCCANEERS SECONDS and Ballinasloe served up a compelling Bank of Ireland Connacht Junior Cup quarter-final at Moher Road on Sunday when the visitors prevailed on a 22-15 scoreline. This was a typical derby battle, evenly balanced and contested with sporting fervour and passion in front of a sizeable attendance.

Both teams made changes from their previous outings. Ballinasloe had half a dozen from their extra time league semi-final win at Corinthians the previous Sunday. Buccs had four changes from their Cup win at Sligo with Conor Morrissey and Brendan Fagan returning in the pack, Harry Hughes on the left wing and John Why in at full-back for the injured Jensen Nagle. One wondered would the Pirates be ring rusty, not having had a match for a month, or would the hosts be more battle-hardened following their tough test against Corinthians.
Despite the biting crossfield breeze and the understandably heavy sod, the homesters hit the ground running and their early pressure was rewarded with a 5th minute Nick Cusack penalty. It did not take the midlanders long to retort with Hughes giving a taste of what was to follow when Why’s offload sent him racing over for a 9th minute try wide on the left.

Cusack was off-target with a penalty while Atrio Abono, Sean Flynn and the busy Hughes responded with strong carries. Ballinasloe then applied fierce pressure around the half-hour mark but the Pirates defence stood firm, eventually forcing a knock-on. Patrick Grehan’s dispute of this decision earned the home hooker ten minutes in the sin bin and gifted a relieving penalty to the visitors.

It took Buccs until the closing moments of the half to take advantage of their temporary numerical superiority. Adam Flanagan somehow got the ball away from an untidy ruck and Ross Murphy-Sweeney surged forward. He passed to Hughes whose kick ahead was not dealt with by a dithering home defence and Murphy-Sweeney pounced to score an opportunist try that gave Buccaneers a 10-3 half-time lead.

As had happened in the opening half, the team playing towards the road end dominated the early exchanges as Buccs pinned Ballinasloe inside their 22 for 12 minutes, pounding their defence but somehow not breaching a really committed rearguard action. When the Athlonians did not add to their tally it left them exposed to a home comeback but the irrepressible Hughes had other ideas. Following a ruck on the home 10 metre line, the Pirates winger got possession in the centre of the park and he left a trail of home players in his wake as he scored a superb 58th minute solo try converted by Gerard Fallon to put Buccaneers 17-3 ahead.

Ballinasloe were not about to cave in and five minutes later Seamus Egan burst over for a try. Buccs were equally swift in replying when Why gathered a long clearance in his own half to link with Flanagan. The Pirates scrumhalf sent Hughes dancing up the left flank where he wrong-footed the cover to secure a memorable hat-trick with a 68th minute touchdown.

Ballinasloe continued to battle and Morrissey was yellow carded after his side coughed up a number of penalties. This was somewhat inconsistent officiating as Ballinasloe had been equally guilty in the opening stages of the second half, yet not card flashed! The home side’s efforts were rewarded when Andrew Mannion (brother of Buccs Stephen) darted in for a late try converted by Cusack to complete the 22-15 scoreline.

Buccs were that bit sharper especially Hughes while Sam Fogarty was outstanding in the forwards exchanges. Robert Teape was teak tough in defence and the Pirates lineout work profited from Darren Browne’s throws. Buccs reward is a home fixture at last, a semi-final pairing with Dunmore while Castlebar will face favourites Connemara. Meanwhile, there is the little matter of the Junior 1B League final next Sunday to further wet the appetite when Buccaneers and Ballinasloe meet again at the Dexcom Stadium!

BALLINASLOE:- N.Cusack; O.Tully, R.Enraght-Moony, K.Blackweir, K.Wieczorek; A.Mannion (captain), G.Enraght-Moony; L.Feehily, P.Grehan, M.Kelly; B.Feeney, C.Harewood; S.Egan, M.O’Neill and R.Wakefield. Replacements:- J.Brooks, H.Killeen, S.Grenham, N.Staunton, T.Fitzpatrick, J.Carry, J.Gibbons and A.Bannerton.

BUCCANEERS:- J.Why; H.Balsiger, R.Murphy-Sweeney, R.Teape, H.Hughes; G.Fallon, A.Flanagan; A.M.Abono, C.Morrissey (captain), S.Flynn; C.O’Grady, S.Fogarty; D.Browne, B.Fagan and L.Balsiger. Replacements:- C.Daly (for Abono, 45 mins), N.Guliashvili (for Flynn, 53 mins), L.Doyle (for Morrissey, 56 mins), R.Keighery-Farley (for O’Grady, 64 mins), J.Scouler (for Fagan, 64 mins), C.Brill (for Browne, 64 mins), C.Morrissey (for L.Balsiger, 70 mins) and C.Rooney-Digan (for Why, 76 mins).

Referee:- Shane Gaughan (Connacht).