BUCCANEERS and Corinthians served up some decent fare as club rugby action for season 2023-24 kicked off on Saturday when the teams squared up in the opening round of the Bank of Ireland Connacht Senior League. On home soil at Dubarry Park that looked very well, Buccs got the defence of their title off to a winning start, coming out on top by 24-14.

Both clubs fielded primarily youthful squads and, at this early stage of the season, are far from the finished product. The Pirates will be pleased with gathering a try bonus point in their deserved victory but the westerners left a losing bonus point behind them with the mainly diagonal swirling breeze being the only blight on perfect playing conditions.

The hosts (who had only 6 starters from last season’s opener) lined out minus a quartet of long-serving stalwarts, Danny Qualter, Shane Layden, Ruairi Byrne and Martin Staunton while new captain Frank Hopkins was missing through injury. Stephen Mannion, sited at fullback, took the skipper’s role on this occasion which saw debuts for Conor O’Shaughnessy and Mark Earle and a first Senior start for Leo McFarlane in the home backline.

Winger O’Shaughnessy promptly made his mark, finishing off an exciting attack to touch down for Buccs first try of the season wide on the right after only 5 minutes. As the Tribesmen settled into the game, Michael Hanley was sin-binned after 14 minutes on the back of a number of penalties conceded by the Shannonsiders. Corinthians punted the resulting penalty to the Bounty corner where the Pirates pack stood firm following the lineout with Cathal Walsh robbing possession from Mark Boyle as the visitors’ captain attempted to notch a try.
They eventually opened their account on the half-hour mark, going through quite a number of phases and displaying neat handling that stretched Buccs defence, before Sean Fox forged a gap to touchdown near the uprights and Cian Treacy added the conversion.

There was an eagerness about the exchanges especially in the first half, albeit there were errors throughout too, and Buccs finished strongly. Corinthians appeared to have rode out this spell of pressure but the midlanders forced a close-in penalty. With the visitors’ scrum in trouble from an early stage, the Pirates wisely opted for another scrum from which the ball was moved smartly to the right where O’Shaughnessy dotted down for his second unconverted try. This was the final act of the opening period with Buccs 10-7 ahead at the break.

Mark Tallon replaced Cian McCann, who had sustained a knock, at half-time but the unfortunate young replacement was forced off with a reoccurrence of a shoulder injury a mere two minutes after his introduction. Conor Morrissey came on in his stead while Corinthians withdrew Alex Burke during the interval, John Hughes coming on for the prop.

The Athlone side stretched their lead to 17-7 on 53 minutes, Ryan O’Meara showing typical desire to finish off a fine Buccs move for a try converted by Hanley. However, Corinthians responded within three minutes, slick hands sending Finn McNulty in for a try on the right. Treacy’s conversion narrowed their arrears to 3 points.

The homesters introduced Colin Daly on the hour mark and he made an instant impact, his dummy wrong-footing the westerners’ defence as he darted in from the 22 for the bonus point try at the posts making Hanley’s conversion a formality.

This proved the final score of the match and Buccs managed the closing exchanges comfortably despite Gavin Daly incurring a puzzling yellow card. Corinthians did finish on the offensive but spurned a late ‘gimme’ penalty that would surely have earned them a losing bonus point. However, Buccaneers were much the happier outfit with a youthful squad sticking to their tasks and being that little bit more streetwise.

Their pack dominated the setpieces with the front five demolishing their opponents on a number of occasions. Fergus Galvin, Ryan O’Meara and Oisin Dolan were prominent but Walsh really caught the eye, foraging ferociously to regularly turn over possession. O’Shaughnessy has pace to burn on the wing and took his brace of tries with aplomb. Rookie MacFarlane was tidy and effective at scrumhalf while Mannion and Harry Balsiger made busy contributions for the winners.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Mannion (captain); C.O’Shaughnessy, T.Shine, M.Earle, H.Balsiger; M.Hanley, L.MacFarlane; J.Kelly, O.Dolan, S.O’Connell; F.Galvin, C.McCann; C.Walsh, G.Daly and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- M.Tallon (for McCann, h/t), C.Morrissey (for Tallon, inj. 42 mins), C.Byrne (for O’Connell, 55 mins), D.Bolger (for Dolan, 55 mins), H.Hughes (for Hanley, 55 mins), C.Daly (for MacFarlane, inj. 59 mins), C.Brill (for Kelly, 69 mins) and Y.Avrahami (for Balsiger, 69 mins).

CORINTHIANS:- S.Fox; R.McCleane, A.Madden, H.Sheridan, F.McNulty; C.Treacy, P.Rainsford; P.Fahy, M.Holmes, A.Burke; M.Garcia Peret, M.J.Gavin; R.Glynn, J.Gannon and M.Boyle (captain). Replacements:- S.Concannon (for Gannon, inj. 8 mins), J.Hughes (for Burke, h/t), L.Carpenter (for Gavin, 50 mins), J.D.Duffy (for Hughes), J.McPhilbin, J.Tierney, J.Conway, J.Wise and B.Barry.

Referee:- Shane Touhey (Connacht).