BUCCANEERS 13 NAAS 11
BUCCANEERS and Naas served up a compelling Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B battle in testing conditions at Dubarry Park on Saturday with the homesters taking the honours 13-11. The Pirates were worthy winners, displaying more enterprise overall and also rolling up their collective sleeves against the elements in a battling second half display as they atoned for their narrow defeat against the same opposition at Tullow just before Christmas. This hard-earned victory keeps Buccs top of the division above City of Armagh on scoring difference.
Buccs made three changes from that frosty encounter with Ryan O’Meara coming in at No.8 instead of the unavailable Ciaran Booth, Frank Hopkins returned after injury at scrumhalf and Shane Jennings started at fullback. Michael Hanley and Will Reilly were on the bench. The Cobras made seven changes with Stephen Lackey, Peter King, David Benn, Cillian Dempsey and Ryan Casey coming in to their pack. Craig Ronaldson, whose final kick of the action won the encounter at Tullow, lined out in the centre with Mark McDermott fielding at fullback.
On a sunny but very cold afternoon, Buccaneers had first use of the elements and took the game to the visitors from the start. A wild tackle by Bryan Croke on Shane Layden should possibly have merited more than a mere penalty but Harry West was surprisingly off-target with the relatively straight-forward placekick after 7 minutes.
Ten minutes later, Buccs put a terrific flowing move together with Josh O’Connor and Layden linking well to send Saul O’Carroll haring forward. A try looked certain but Donal Conroy somehow got across to loosen O’Carroll’s grip from the ball as he attempted to score at the left corner flag. At the end of the opening quarter, O’Connor was tackled into touch on the opposite flank as he headed towards the Naas line.
In a feisty encounter, a brief flare-up occurred after what looked like a deliberate knock-on by the visitors inside their 22 as Buccs continued to press forward. The midlanders had lots of territory but found the Naas defence impenetrable for long periods. They forced a scrum penalty on 27 minutes but West was again profligate from a very similar position to his early miss. Naas, content to slow the game down regularly, would have been the happier outfit at this stage.
But the Pirates finally found a way through on the half-hour mark after Cian McCann and Danny Qualter had thundered forward and when Jennings received the ball in centrefield he spun a superb long skipped pass to O’Connor who continues to deliver touchdowns with an improved service this season. The flying winger raced in for his ninth try of the campaign and West got his radar working accurately with an excellent conversion from wide on the right.
But almost immediately, the Shannonsiders coughed up a central penalty which Ronaldson just got over with the help of the crossbar to leave only four points 7-3 between the teams at half-time. When Buccs were guilty of not rolling away in the opening minute of the second half, Ronaldson’s penalty narrowed the margin to a single point. The Pirates now minimal advantage did not look sufficient particularly with the influential breeze now assisting the Co. Kildare outfit. As the rain now cascaded down their cause looked all the more challenging when injuries forced both Sean O’Connell and Hopkins off in the opening minutes of the second period. Oisin Dolan and Reilly were their respective replacements.
Missed opportunities seemed like being costly but in a much more clinical second half performance the home forwards knuckled down, retaining possession well and going through numerous phases. The Buccs pack was now dominating with Steveni Lombard carrying a huge amount of ball in an uplifting contribution. The hooker looked like he might finish off a move inside the Naas 22 ten minutes into the second half but knocked on in the face of a stout tackle.
However, the industry and commitment of the pack yielded another scrum penalty after 57 minutes and this time West found the range against the wind. Eight minutes later the home outhalf landed a beauty after Naas were penalised for a foot offence at a ruck. This pushed Buccaneers 13-6 ahead.
Charlie Sheridan weaved his way past some tepid tackling late in the game to notch a Naas try wide on the right while Ronaldson’s conversion attempt was also weak. Buccs finished on the offensive but a knock-on by Reilly in a promising position two minutes from time denied the hosts adding to their tally for what should really have been a more comfortable margin than 13-11.
Nevertheless, this was a rousing display by Buccaneers showing that they have more armoury than the silky style that has propelled them to league leaders, a position they retain following this whole-hearted and sustained performance. The pack were outstanding with hooker Lombard truly worthy of his Audi Athlone Man of the Match award. O’Meara and Qualter were prominent throughout with James Kelly also digging deep. Jennings was pick of the backline where Stephen Mannion also did well in what was a real battle between two highly committed sides. Meanwhile Naas’ losing bonus point edged them up another slot above the relegation zone.
BUCCANEERS:- S.Jennings; J.O’Connor, S.Layden, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; H.West, F.Hopkins; J.Kelly, S.Lombard, M.Staunton (captain); R.Byrne, D.Qualter; S.O’Connell, C.McCann and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- O.Dolan (for O’Connell, 41 mins), W.Reilly (for Hopkins, 45 mins), C.Fokam, F.McDonnell, M.Hanley and O.Burgess.
NAAS:- M.McDermott; C.Sheridan, H.Smyth, C.Ronaldson, D.Conroy; B.Croke, O.Cawley; S.Lackey, T.Dooley, P.King; P.Monahan (captain), D.Benn; C.Dempsey, R.Casey and E.Walsh. Replacements:- C.Doyle (for Lackey, 48 mins), P.O’Flaherty (for Benn, 52 mins), C.Halpenny (for McDermott, 60 mins), M.Dennis (for Dempsey, 60 mins), M.Stapleton (for Cawley,70 mins) and G.McNeilis.
Referee:- Padraic Reidy (IRFU).