BUCCANEERS put up a commendable performance when going down 32-12 to runaway champions St. Mary’s College in their final Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B game at windy Dubarry Park on Saturday. While the visitors were worthy winners, they did not have it all their own way despite Buccs again having to rejig their stretched resources with Conor Morrissey and Charlie Ward coming into their front row for this game sponsored by the Hodson Bay Group.

A very strong gale blew consistently from end to end and the Pirates had to face the elements in the opening half. Mick O’Gara opened the visitors’ account with a 4th minute penalty and when he converted Michael McCormack’s try, which followed a series of phases, six minutes later for an early 10-0 lead it looked like being an arduous and long afternoon for the home crew.

But the Pirates grew into the contest after a fine break featuring Josh O’Connor, Shane Layden and Frank Hopkins. Orrin Burgess and Ward made a number of strong carries as did Daniel Hawkshaw that gave the midlanders a foothold in the contest. They enjoyed a spell of good pressure approaching the half-hour mark but Mark Earle spilled possession when some reward for their endeavours seemed in the offing.
Then O’Connor collected a clearance inside his own half to launch a counter attack and he off-loaded to the evergreen Layden who handed off O’Gara to run in for a 34th minute unconverted try at the Bounty corner. St. Mary’s retorted with some slick handling leading up to a Peter Ford try wide on the right. O’Gara was unable to convert with the final action of the opening period at which stage Buccs trailed 15-5 but still very much in the contest.

St. Mary’s knew they were in a battle and they responded with enterprising handling following the change of ends. This saw them make ground against the persistent breeze and Ronan Watters finished off the move with a 42nd minute try converted by O’Gara. Four minutes later Burgess was yellow-carded for an untidy tackle and the metropolitans took swift advantage of their numerical superiority to notch their bonus point try, Hugo Conway evading Stephen Mannion’s clutches to touch down wide on the right for a 47th minute try that pushed their advantage to 27-5.

Impressive captain Watters notched his second try at the start of the final quarter, benefitting from a clearcut forward pass in the build-up. Layden looked like grabbing his second try too soon afterwards but the referee whistled him back due to a crossing offence. Nevertheless, the Athlone side continued to battle and, following a spell of concerted pressure during which they were held up at the line a couple of times, Mannion burst through for a 69th minute try converted by Earle.

That completed the scoring but not the action with Leo MacFarlane being sin-binned for an innocuous knock-on with 9 minutes remaining. A flare-up in the closing moments then saw St. Mary’s duo Cameron Stewart and Andrew Walsh sin-binned, but too late for Buccs to take advantage from.

So it is life in Division 2A next season for the Shannonsiders but without Layden and Martin Staunton for whom this was the final outings in Buccs colours of two wonderful contributors to the club in almost 400 AIL appearances between them. ‘Laydo’ demonstrated that he has still much to offer as apart from his try he put in a notable shift that earned him the Audi Athlone Man of the Match accolade. The Buccs backline threatened regularly with ball in hand especially O’Connor and Hawkshaw. Despite conceding bulk and experience the pack gave it their all with the displays of youngsters Oisin Dolan and Fionn McDonnell giving hope for the future at the end of a difficult and frustrating campaign. Had the Pirates performed like this throughout the season, they would surely have avoided relegation but if they retain the bulk of their squad (and enjoy a fairer share of luck) they can regroup and bounce back quickly.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Mannion; J.O’Connor, S.Layden, D.Hawkshaw, O.Burgess; M.Earle, F.Hopkins (captain); C.Ward, C.Morrissey, M.Burke; F.Galvin, F.McDonnell; O.Dolan, G.Daly and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- J.Kelly (for Ward, 10 mins), C.Ward (for Kelly, 23 mins), F.Murray (for Ward, h/t), L.MacFarlane (for Hopkins, h/t), M.Staunton (for Morrissey, 53 mins), J.Kelly (for Burke, 53 mins), J.Nagle (for O’Meara, 56 mins), F.Hopkins (for O’Connor, 72 mins) and M.Hanley (for Hawkshaw, 72 mins).

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE:- C.Hayes; L.Ramirez, P.Ford, M.O’Gara, H.Conway; C.Dean, A.McEvoy; T.O’Reilly, J.Nelson-Murray, M.McCormack; D.Leane, I.Wickham; B.Taylor, F.Burke and R.Watters (captain). Replacements:- D.Lyons (for Leane, 31 mins), D.Leane (for Wickham, h/t), C.Stewart (for Nelson-Murray, 43 mins), C.Pierce (for Burke, 43 mins), D.Sancery (for Conway, 46 mins), A.Walsh (for McEvoy, 70 mins), J.Nelson-Murray (for O’Reilly, 70 mins) and E.Baxter.

Referee:- Paul O’Connor (IRFU).

Buccaneers RFC Annual Player Awards event is pencilled in for Saturday, April 27th at The Bounty. Further details to follow.