Tenth Senior Cup crown for Buccs


BUCCANEERS captured their tenth Connacht Senior Cup crown when they defeated Ballina 25-5 in this season’s decider played in front of a decent attendance at Galway Sportsground on St. Patrick’s Day. On a lovely afternoon Buccs were assisted by a strong breeze for the first half and they were quickly in the driving seat scoring 12 points in as many minutes. Although Ballina replied with a try before the end of the opening quarter, that was as close as the Mayo men could get to a sharper and stronger Pirates outfit. The Athlone side won comfortably and indeed the margin could have been greater as the winners had no less than three touchdowns disallowed.

Buccs were purposeful and swiftly into their stride, long memories of some supporters having reminded them that Ballina had undid Athlone in dramatic late fashion in a previous final. Rory O’Connor struck early, making a break down the right flank before chipping over the fullback to dot down wide on the right after just 4 minutes. Michael Hanley added a smashing conversion. Eight minutes later Danny Qualter claimed lineout ball at a Ballina throw and Stephen Mannion was quickly making inroads into Ballina territory before off-loading to Shane Layden. The man from Arigna fuelled his way through the Ballina defence from right to left to score a splendid unconverted try.

12-0 down so early in the contest it looked like it could be a really ominous afternoon for the men from the north-west but they responded by going through the phases before Darragh Whyte, who had been tackled into touch near the right corner flag between Buccs early brace, broke away to notch an unconverted try. But they then had a couple of let offs when good handling by Buccaneers gave Saul O’Carroll possession down the left wing where Dan Molloy put in a try-saving tackle while Evan Galvin was forced to knock-on shortly afterwards close to the Ballina line.

The midlanders now endeavoured to turn the screw and capitalise on the elements of breeze and slope. Although they applied fierce pressure for a sustained period they were somehow held out by defiant and unyielding Ballina defending while Tabo Maree was harshly denied a try when the referee deemed Frank Hopkins to be obstructing although the scrumhalf seemed merely to get out of the No.8’s way. The Pirates pounded the Greens line on the left where desperate defending saw the referee speak twice to Ballina captain Luke Sweeney. Buccs, who perhaps should have spread the ball wide after a number of flurries, eventually settled for 37th minute Hanley penalty that gave them a 15-5 half-time cushion that did not look insurmountable.

However, although now against the elements, Buccs dictated the early second half exchanges and following a series of penalties conceded Ballina’s Andrew West was despatched to the sin bin for ten minutes on 56 minutes. But the favourites did not add to their tally until early in the final quarter when Mannion thumped over a long-range penalty against the breeze. Five minutes later an excellent bout of interplay was finished off in the left corner by Cian McCann with Hanley adding a splendid conversion to this super team score that stretched Buccaneers advantage to 25-5, which surprisingly proved the final scoreline.

Ballina were wilting at this stage while the Shannonsiders were still going strong but two further Buccs touchdowns were ruled out, O’Connor seeming to knock on as he gathered the ball before finishing while Layden was denied apparently for an off-the-ball tackle as both players strove to add to their tally. So, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Greens dream of a first Senior League and Cup double crumbled but they put up a gallant test for the Pirates who also defeated them in their most recent Cup final appearance in 1999/2000. On the positive side, if Ballina can remain as competitive and committed in their remaining AIL Division 2B fixtures they can ease away from the fear of relegation.

Meanwhile, Buccaneers can reflect on a mission accomplished in a relatively comfortable manner as they captured the coveted silverware for the first time since 2018/19. They were stronger in all facets of this encounter contested in a sporting manner. They got a searching test in the forwards battle for long periods where Maree was outstanding with considerable support from Qualter, while Fallon and the peerless Layden were best of a backline that regularly looked like unpicking the Ballina cover. After a near two-year pandemic enforced lockdown, it has been great to get back playing sport. To cap it with winning the province’s Blue Riband trophy is a wonderful feather in the club’s cap while It was a particularly notable afternoon for Martin Staunton and Rory O’Connor, both winning their fourth Senior Cup medals. Congratulations all round to the squad and their management crew.

BUCCANEERS:- R.Fallon; S.O’Carroll, S.Layden, S.Mannion, R.O’Connor; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins; J.Kelly, D.Browne, M.Staunton; R.Byrne, D.Qualter; C.McCann, E.Galvin (captain) and T.Maree. Replacements:- R.Murphy-Sweeney (for O’Carroll, 51 mins), R.Grenham (for Browne, 60 mins), R.O’Meara (for Kelly, 60 mins), E.O’Reilly (for Hopkins, 68 mins), F.Galvin (for Byrne, 68 mins), J.Kelly (for Staunton, 68 mins), R.Byrne (for McCann, 75 mins) and F.Hopkins (for Fallon, 75 mins).

BALLINA:- D.Whyte; I.West, Callum Quinn, A.Corduff, Cian Quinn; H.West, M.Murphy; C.Mason, M.Walker, S.Clarke; A.West, T.Hannigan; F.Tully, L.Sweeney (captain) and D.Molloy. Replacements:- B.McVann (for Walker, 48 mins), N.Keane (for Murphy, 64 mins), M.Feeley (for Hannigan, 68 mins), E.Creaven (for Mason, 74 mins) and L.Golden.

Referee:- Jason Cairns (Connacht).