Despite outscoring the visitors by 4 tries to 3 and enjoying much the greater share of possession, Buccaneers succumbed to a late Galwegians flourish when losing their opening game of the season 28-26 at sun-drenched Dubarry Park on Saturday. Buccs did not reflectively translate their superiority over the opening hour onto the scoreboard and the light blues reeled them in with a final quarter rally that did not look likely in the exchanges up to the second water break in this Connacht Senior League tie.

Both teams had only a handful of survivors from their previous CSL meeting at Glenina which the Pirates won by a similar margin last season. The homesters fielded a side backboned with AIL experience that, on paper, looked capable of dealing with the challenge of the Tribesmen. However, it was the westerners who got off to a perfect start. Aided by a welcome breeze Patrick Nash found a magnificent touch in Buccs right hand corner where the midlanders throw-in went awry and Michael McColgan swooped for an opportunist 3rd minute try. Darragh Kennedy added an excellent conversion.

Buccs responded and enjoyed considerable territory but it took them until the 16th minute before their pressure was rewarded. Fergus Galvin claimed possession from a close-in lineout and an impressive maul was finished off by Sean O’Connell for a try on the left. Michael Hanley’s conversion rebounded off an upright.

The Pirates then strayed offside and fullback Kennedy drilled over the resultant penalty to leave Wegians 10-5 ahead at the first-half water break. When play resumed Danny Qualter broke forward and sent Frankie Hopkins racing away and he looked sure to score but Rex Aghabueze’s chase halted the home scrumhalf just short of the line. However, swift support by Buccs saw No.8 Qualter get over the line for a 21st minute try which Hanley converted.

Just either side of the half-hour mark, both Galwegians wingers did not take try opportunities. Next it was the midlanders who squandered a pair of try chances, Hopkins denied due to a forward pass while Cian McCann lost possession when tackled by Christy Reilly within sight of the Blues line. So Buccs held a slender 12-10 advantage at halftime.

Buccaneers made a promising start following the change of ends and Conor O’Shaughnessy somehow got under Shane Layden to prevent the home fullback touching down in the left corner. Buccs now really piled on the pressure but found a defiant Wegians defence difficult to penetrate until the alert Darren Browne spotted that the ball was out at the back of a ruck and the hooker smartly snaffled the loose ball to dive over for an opportunist 52nd minute try. Hanley’s conversion stretched the Pirates advantage to 19-10 and they looked in control of the proceedings.

But just before the second half water break, Galwegians made a rare foray into the home half and Eoin Tarmey made it pay with a touchdown between the posts. Kennedy’s conversion reduced their arrears to just two points. This try rejuvenated the westerners and Kennedy soon landed a brace of penalties to edge them 23-19 ahead. Having found their second wind, O’Shaughnessy notched their third try five minutes from time. Kennedy’s conversion attempt was his only miss.

Buccs rallied and applied sustained pressure during which Robert Deacy was sin-binned. But the midlanders gave themselves too much to do with time running out while Wegians desperate defending finally drew the ire of referee Michael Honan who awarded a penalty try to Buccs who will be disappointed by this 28-26 defeat.

This was a rare recent victory by Galwegians over the Athlone outfit. They lived on scraps for large portions of this contest but were more clinical when opportunities presented themselves. Young Kennedy, skipper Kieran Downey and substitute Zak Rather did well for the winners.
Considering they have been training since the first week of July, this was a somewhat underwhelming display by Buccaneers. Too many handling errors and wrong decision making allayed to some indiscipline contributed to their downfall. Hopkins and Stephen Mannion were best of the backs with Qualter and O’Connell pick of the pack. Buccs picked up 2 bonus points but erred in having only 5 substitutes while Wegians had a full complement of 7. The Pirates now have 3 weeks before their next fixture to rectify matters.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Layden; R.O’Connor, H.Balsiger, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins; M.Staunton (captain), D.Browne, S.O’Connell; R.Byrne, F.Galvin; L.Balsiger, C.McCann and D.Qualter. Replacements:- Cian Daly (for McCann), C.Fokam (for O’Connell), D.Touhey (for Staunton), Colin Daly (for Hopkins), R.Murphy-Sweeney (for O’Connor), and S.O’Connell (for Browne).

GALWEGIANS:- D.Kennedy; R.Aghabueze, C.O’Shaughnessy, R.Deacy, M.Duffy; P.Nash, A.Lampkin; C.Joyce, C.Reilly, M.McColgan; E.Tarmey, M.Loughlin; N.Murphy, J.Winters and K.Downey (captain). Replacements used:- D.Keane, I.Garahbois, G.Duffy, B.McGuinness, Z.Rather, K.Waterman and M.Dever.

Referee:- Michael Honan (Connacht).