BUCCANEERS and Corinthians served up a cracking Connacht U-16 final also at the Sportsground on Sunday when a 22-22 was perhaps the fairest outcome to a thrilling encounter. It was nip and tuck from start to finish between these two well-drilled and evenly-matched rivals. An hour’s exhilarating play could not separate them so next Sunday’s replay will be greatly anticipated.

Although playing against the influential breeze, Buccs laid down an early marker when Eoin Naughton made a super break that was halted deep in the Corinthians 22. The Pirates then stole a lineout on the right and put terrific handling together from side to side where skipper Naughton was on hand to surge over for a 3rd minute try. Charlie O’Carroll was unable to add the conversion from close to the left corner flag.

Corinthians responded when Sean Walsh made good ground and, following a penalty that gained them further territory, Liam Cahill surged over for a 10th minute try converted by Walsh. Buccs were back in front within three minutes after O’Tega Awhinawhi was on to a tap back from a Corinthians lineout like a flash. He robbed possession from the scrumhalf and darted 30 metres for an unconverted try. But the sides were level 10-10 when Walsh slotted over an 18th minute penalty after Buccs were pinged at a scrum.

Walsh then found a mighty penalty touch on the left and moments later Mark Farragher went over for a 21st minute try between the uprights, skipper Walsh again landing the conversion. Buccs responded positively with Awhinawhi making another smashing charge down the centre but could not repeat his earlier try-scoring feat while Conor Dowling was shunted into touch in another quickfire raid. Then having pilfered another Corinthians lineout Buccs made promising progress until a dropped ball spoiled this attack.

But just before the interval, the Pirates were rewarded for their efforts. Corinthians struggled to clear their lines from a clever diagonal ball to the left and when Buccs regained possession they moved the ball to the opposite flank where Dylan Bruton had a lot to do but he left the city side’s cover flat-footed to notch his team’s third unconverted try that narrowed their arrears to 17-15 at the break.
Just as Buccs had done in the opening half, Corinthians struck early following the change of ends. Bruton put in a try-saving tackle on his opposite number Cian Heavy but Mici O’Shea pounced for a try following a quickly tapped 41st minute penalty. Heavy then retrieved a dangerous situation at the other end of the paddock as the Athlone side upped the tempo. They enjoyed growing territory but lacked precision in the face of steadfast Corinthians defending while the influence of the breeze had waned. Scores were not as plentiful in this half but the excitement was still at fever pitch.

But their huge pressure and endeavour was not to go without reward. Callum Kelly made a great chase after Buccs had turned over possession and he nabbed Heavy giving the fullback no chance to clear. Swift support arrived and the ball was promptly moved to Thomas Cotton who galloped up the left flank for a try 6 minutes from time. Conor Naughton nailed a splendid touchline conversion to tie the scores 22-22. The Athlonians survived a late scare when Walsh broke forward but a last ditch tackle saw him knock-on in his attempt to score.

So two first-rate teams deservedly get another opportunity in their hunt for silverware. Skipper Naughton and the livewire Awhinawhi were highly prominent in the Pirates pack while Bruton, Cotton and Conor Naughton did well in their backline. Centre Walsh was Corinthians marquee player.

BUCCANEERS:- D.Bruton; C.Dowling, N.Derwin, T.Cotton, T.Sheehan; C.Naughton, C.O’Carroll; N.Downes, E.Naughton (captain), S.Walsh; J.Heaslip, R.Claffey; T.Bourke, O.Awhinawhi and C.Kelly. Replacements:- J.Bourdon (for Walsh), E.McMickan, L.Clayburn, B.Conroy, C.Dolan, S.O’Donoghue and P.Begley.

CORINTHIANS:- C.Heavy; B.Cooke, C.Joyce, S.Walsh (captain), L.Daly; D.Browne, D.Conneely; D.Kilcommins, E.Kavanagh, D.J.McDonagh; C.Curling, L.Cahill; R.Joyce, M.Farragher and C.Keane. Replacements:- J.Gibson, E.Walsh, M.O’Shea, R.Dolan, P.Delaney, C.McCullough and M.J.Curry.

Referee:- David Andrieu (Connacht).