BUCCANEERS 13 BALLINA 13 (U-18.5 Cup semi-final)


BUCCANEERS were somewhat fortunate to progress to the Connacht U-18.5 Cup final through Charlie O’Carroll’s penalty with the last kick of a keenly contested tussle which earned his side a 13-13 draw at rainswept Dubarry Park on Thursday night. Buccs were perhaps that bit better but failed to transmit chances onto the scoreboard. Meanwhile, the visitors were more clinical with less opportunities and it was a heartbreaking result for them.

Conditions were truly challenging for the players and match officials with the wind blowing from goal-to-goal driving banks of rain throughout the contest on an understandably sodden surface. The large attendance could enjoy some refuge in the stand. O’Carroll opened the scoring with an excellent 3rd minute penalty against the elements. With the breeze assisting them in the opening half, Ballina enjoyed greater territory and levelled with a 14th minute Conor Connolly penalty.

Four minutes later, Buccs knocked on a kick ahead inside their 22 and the taller Mayo pack got to work at the scrum and Jason Duggan finished off a maul for a try near the uprights with Connolly adding the conversion. Buccs began to show their attacking potential as the game progressed and ended the half on the opposition line but still trailing 10-3 at the break.

The north-westerners restarted on the offensive and it took stout defending by Niall Tallon to hold up his opposite number Oisin McNicholas on the home line. The Pirates enjoyed the better of the exchanges thereafter but Dylan Bruton was shunted into touch on the left before he could touch down. Buccs came tantalisingly close on a number of occasions with Patrick Egan and Tallon both being held out within touching distance of the whitewash.

As the pressure intensified, Lorcan Hughes high tackle halted another break by Bruton and the visitors prop was duly yellow-carded. While Buccs did not capitalise on their temporary numerical superiority, this sin-binning was to prove crucial. Lorcan McCormack made a terrific break for the homesters but, instead of off-loading to supporting runners, his ill-advised grubber kick was blocked. Nevertheless, the momentum was now with the Athlone side despite losing influential flanker Sean Rohan to injury and some further sustained endeavour was rewarded with the match in the final quarter when Thomas Cotton breached the Ballina defence for a well-worked try. O’Carroll converted to level the scores 10-10.

But the visitors retorted with Connolly driving over a fine late penalty to regain the lead with time running out. However, Buccs responded admirably to return to the offensive to pile on the pressure in a thrilling climax. They forced a penalty straight in front of the posts and Brian Tallon instructed his charges to take the points, which O’Carroll duly did. The team manager was aware that in the event of the game ending in a draw that Buccaneers would be awarded the result due to Ballina’s yellow card while the Pirates had incurred none.

A cruel way to lose for the visitors for whom Connolly and McNicholas were their most effective performers who then had to face a long trek home in the miserable weather (Buccs U-14 Girls had suffered a closely similar fate not too long ago so the club had every sympathy for the Mayo side). Drier conditions and a firmer sod would have suited the midlanders much better but they displayed commendable battling qualities and had splendid contributions by Egan, Tallon, O’Carroll and Tom Sheehan. They will now face Sligo in the Dexcom Stadium on Sunday, April 21st, in a repeat of last season’s final.

BUCCANEERS:- D.Bruton; C.Dowling, T.Cotton, T.Sheehan, L.McCormack; D.Reid, C.O’Carroll; J.Casey, E.McMickan, N.Robinson; M.Fallon, C.Kelly; S.Rohan, P.Egan and N.Tallon. Replacements:- E.Naughton (for McMickan, h/t), A.Oates (for Robinson, h/t), E.McMickan (for Rohan, inj. 42 mins), A.Saka (for Fallon, 47 mins), M.S.Radebe (for Bruton, inj. 62 mins), J.Bourdon, G.Murphy, J.McCormack and M.Druost.

BALLINA:- P.Barrett; J.Healy, D.Feeney, M.Caden, A.Healy; C.Connolly, B.Ruane; J.Duggan, A.Lynn, L.Hughes; J.O’Boyle, J.Kenny; B.Donohoe, J.Bohan and O.McNicholas. Replacements:- P.Geraghty, S.Kenny, M.Quinn, D.Staunton and S.Flynn-Heffernan.

Referee:- Gerry Geraghty (Connacht).