CONNEMARA completed a Connacht Junior League and Cup double when they overcame Buccaneers Seconds 34-24 in a hugely exciting Bank of Ireland Junior Cup final played at Galway Sportsground on Sunday. Conceding considerable bulk and experience to the serial winners from Clifden, this developing Buccaneers squad pushed the Blacks all the way and can take great pride in contributing to a decider worthy of the occasion in which both teams endeavoured to move the ball at pace. Following overnight rain, a torrential pre-match downpour and swirling breeze made life difficult for both sets of players albeit more problematic perhaps for the slighter Pirates crew. A large attendance provided substantial and sustained encouragement to the teams throughout and also observed a respectful one minute’s silence before kick-off in memory of Big Pat Hynes.

Henry O’Toole gave the hot favourites an early lead, slotting over a 7th minute penalty. But Buccs showed their potential within six minutes shoving the Blacks off their own put-in at a scrum and almost immediately afterwards they earned a penalty following a high tackle on Sam Kroupa. They opted to punt to touch on the left and from there Buccaneers went through a number of pick and goes before a smart switch in direction by Graham Lynch sent Ryan O’Meara over for a try converted by Colin Daly.

However, Connemara quickly regained the lead when slick handling from right to left was finished off at pace by Ethan Griffiths with Ian Staunton adding a fine conversion to this 17th minute try. Fullback O’Toole added his second penalty after 32 minutes while the key score of the game arrived in the final move of the half. From a Connemara lineout on the right the throw-in did not cross the five-metre mark, yet play was allowed continue and, following a penalty to touch on the right shortly afterwards, the Blacks made their territory pay when Tommy Mullin strode in for a try. O’Toole added the conversion with the final kick of the half, Connemara now a fortuitously healthy 20-7 to the good at the interval.

It was now going to be an uphill battle literally for Buccaneers as they were now playing towards the graveyard end but they made a very encouraging start to the second half. Substitute Cian McCann was quickly into the thick of the action as the Athlone side made ground through a series of pick and goes. They then went through patient phases across the width of the pitch and Fergus Galvin did exceptionally well to gather the scoring pass that went behind him before bursting over the Blacks line for an unconverted 45th minute try, Daly’s conversion tailing wide against the elements.

Four minutes later, Buccs undid some of that score when dissent following a penalty award made Staunton’s kick easier and the prop added another penalty to push Connemara 26-12 ahead after 54 minutes. Many teams would have caved in at this juncture but this constantly improving young Buccaneers outfit maintained their self-belief and workrate. A strong break by skipper Daly brought the midlanders to their opponents’ 22 and following some sustained attacking play Eoin O’Carroll notched Buccs third try. The Blacks retorted with another Staunton penalty to leave Connemara 29-17 ahead with ten minutes remaining.

The big tighthead was then yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on but, despite having a player in the sin bin, it was Connemara who struck the next blow. An attack led by Marty Connelly brought them dangerously close to the Buccaneers line where a try-saving tackle put them into touch. But Buccs lineout went awry and Griffiths pilfered his second try from the overthrow five minutes from time. The Pirates refused to wilt and kept on battling and their efforts were rewarded when Galvin finished off good approach work for his second try. Gerard Fallon’s conversion from the left completed the 34-24 scoreline in favour of the men from the West for whom one time Pirate John O’Brien is still a vital cog in their backline.

Buccaneers can take considerable pride from their endeavours especially in the forwards contest where they were conceding considerable height and weight, yet stuck manfully to the challenge. To outscore the Blacks by four tries to three is no mean feat and Connemara do not concede 24 points too often. Rory Grenham, in probably his final appearance in the yellow jersey, rolled back the years while O’Meara, Galvin and McCann made noble contributions. Lynch and Harry Balsiger were pick of the Pirates backline. While disappointment was the outcome on the day, this developing Buccaneers squad has made great strides throughout the season, gathering momentum all the way under coaches Paul Byrne and Benny Gilligan assisted by the management trio of Joe Browne, John Doyle and Jimmy Digan. The Shannonsiders also reached the league semi-final where Connemara were again their nemesis. Worthy dual victors, the Blacks were cuter overall and did not allow much ball go wide to their opponents’ dangerous backs.

The Blacks are the standard setters at this level but they — and Buccs — will have noted that the gap is closing. Roll on next season!


BUCCANEERS:- J.Nagle; R.Murphy-Sweeney, H.Balsiger, Colin Daly (captain), H.Hughes; F.Hopkins, G.Lynch; C.Fokam, R.Grenham, S.O’Connell; S.Kroupa, F.Galvin; C.O’Grady, B.McDonnell and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- C.McCann (for McDonnell, inj. h/t), S.O’Carroll (for Murphy-Sweeney, 46 mins), E.O’Carroll (for Nagle, 46 mins), M.Tallon (for Kroupa, 50 mins), T.Thompson (for Fokam, 60 mins), Cian Daly (for O’Connell, 70 mins), B.McDonnell (for O’Meara, 75 mins), G.Fallon (for Hopkins, 75 mins) and R.Teape (for Colin Daly, 75 mins).

CONNEMARA:- H.O’Toole; M.Connelly, J.O’Brien, E.Bourke, E.Griffiths; I.Heanue, M.O’Toole (captain); E.Conroy, H.Prinsloo, I.Staunton; D.O’Reilly, N.Staunton; T.Mullin, P.Lee and T.J.Berry. Replacements:- B.Gibbons (for Prinsloo, inj. 43 mins), D.McDonagh (for M.O’Toole, inj. 72 mins), R.Connelly (for Berry, 75 mins), E.Connolly (for M.Connelly, 75 mins), S.Sweeney (for Heanue, 75 mins), C.Higgins (for Conroy, 78 mins), M.Connelly (for Bourke, 78 mins), M.Joyce and F.Heffernan.

Referee:- Shane Gaughan (Connacht).