An Oliver Coffey penalty with the final kick of an absorbing match denied due reward to Buccaneers who had made a stirring comeback from a 20-6 deficit early in the second half of a really competitive and exciting Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B game played at Dubarry Park on Saturday. On an increasingly murky afternoon, the efforts of both teams brightened up a grey and damp day as the advantage swayed one way and then the other in greasy and cold conditions.

Both teams had a quartet of changes from their pre-Christmas meeting with Oisin Dolan and Matthew Burke coming into the home front row and Orrin Burgess starting on the left wing while club captain Frank Hopkins was on the bench following his injury lay-off. Rock made one change in their pack where Roy Whelan came in at lock and a trio James Moriarty, Chris Rolland and Coffey in their backline. The latter was to be their most influential performer, the scrumhalf taking on place-kicking duties and also notching a lovely solo try in the early moments of the second half as well as kicking the last gasp winner.

As they had done at Stradbrook, Blackrock opened their account early. Liam McNamara and Stephen Mannion combined at The Bounty corner to thwart an early attack and shortly afterwards Shane Layden got underneath the ball to deny the visitors touching down between the uprights. But the metropolitans early pressure gained reward when Whelan stretched over the home line for an 8th minute try which Coffey converted.
Buccs conceded a number of penalties in the opening quarter, some of them of soft variety, and they had a further setback when the experienced Burke was forced off through injury after only 12 minutes. Replacement Martin Staunton showed that he had lost none of his nous in his brief sabbathical from the sport. Two minutes later Buccs were awarded a penalty which Michael Hanley slotted over.

The Pirates were now settling into the contest and Leo MacFarlane was unlucky that his blockdown was deemed a knock-on as was Tom Shine when Layden’s clever crossfield kick eluded the winger. As the floodlights came on in the deteriorating weather, Coffey landed a brace of penalties either side of a Hanley placekick to give Blackrock a 13-6 lead at halftime.

Straight from the restart, Coffey was in the limelight again, claiming the ball and with deft footwork he avoided a number of intended tacklers to scamper in for a try within seconds of the change of ends. He added an excellent conversion to put his side 20-6 ahead and a long second half looked in prospect for the hosts.

But five minutes later Jack Mullany’s high tackle on James Kelly saw the visitors’ prop despatched to the sin-bin. Buccs piled forward in search of a try but were held out tantalisingly close to the line on a number of sallies. However, their pressure told when lineout ball was transferred smartly to Cian McCann and the home No.8 thundered through for a 47th minute try on the left. Hanley added an excellent conversion.

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Rock were suddenly reeling and they were decidedly fortunate that a knock-on on their own 22 was not deemed deliberate by referee Henry Richmond whose decisions did not always endear himself to the home supporters. Hopkins was introduced at this stage and the skipper made an instant impact with a searing break which was followed by a smart crossfield kick to the left where Layden was coolness personified in finishing for a 54th minute try. Hanley’s touchline conversion was narrowly wide but the momentum was now with the midlanders and Mannion landed a splendid long-range penalty to edge Buccs 21-20 ahead with 17 minutes remaining.

The two teams continued to battle ferociously for the spoils and the Pirates looked to be in the driving seat when Liam Nicholson was the second Rock prop to be yellow-carded on 70 minutes, just two minutes after his introduction. The Buccs pack was now dominating and, with 85 minutes on the stadium clock, they had possession just inside their own half. Hold on to the ball for just a few more seconds and victory would be theirs but inexplicably the ball was aimlessly kicked away. Had it gone to touch, time would surely have been up but it enabled Blackrock to run back at the home defence who conceded a penalty. With advantage being played, the tiring homesters infringed again and classy Coffey could not miss from straight in front of the posts with the final action of a gripping encounter.

So after giving their all, Buccaneers felt the devastating taste of a heartbreak defeat. Victory that was there would have have given the youthful squad another terrific boost as they enter a vital stage of the season. However, they can take commendable heart from their sustained endeavours and luck will surely come their way if they continue to put in similar efforts in the challenges ahead. The losing bonus point was important also as it lifts the Athlone side above bottom-placed Queen’s University. The industry of Ryan O’Meara earned him the Audi Athlone Man of the Match award with McCann, Mannion, Kelly and Burgess being other strong contenders for this accolade.

< BUCCANEERS:- L.McNamara; T.Shine, S.Layden (captain), S.Mannion, O.Burgess; M.Hanley, L.MacFarlane; J.Kelly, O.Dolan, M.Burke; F.Galvin, D.Qualter; R.O’Meara, C.Walsh and C.McCann. Replacements:- M.Staunton (for Burke, inj. 12 mins), C.O’Shaughnessy (for Shine, 50 mins), F.Hopkins (for MacFarlane, 54 mins), G.Daly (for Walsh, 65 mins), D.Bolger and M.Earle.

BLACKROCK COLLEGE:- J.Moriarty; C.Rolland, M.Dwan, D.McCarthy, D.Heavey; J.Fennelly, O.Coffey; P.McSweeney, N.Hardiman, J.Mullany; J.Burke (captain), R.Whelan; J.Dixon, D.Fortune and O.Ring. Replacements:- S.Connolly (for Heavey, temp), J.Ringrose (for Moriarty, 61 mins), L.Nicholson (for McSweeney, 66 mins), J.Gardiner (for Nicholson, 78 mins) , L.Keyes and R.Barron.

Referee:- Henry Richmond (IRFU).