Putting in a hugely committed and sustained effort, Buccaneers held off Old Wesley to forge a richly deserved 9-3 Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B victory at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. This contest was a throw-back in style in testing conditions on a dull, dreary afternoon but the pitch stood up exceptionally well despite a noon deluge that added to its already sodden state. Buccs will look to the nine-minute spell either side of halftime when they had two players in the sin-bin as being pivotal to this victory when they denied the visitors any sight of their goalline.

Buccs made just two changes from their first win of the season at Queen’s University with Matthew Burke returning at loosehead prop while Paul Boyle made a first start in over two seasons at No.8. The visitors made four personnel changes, Eoin Deegan coming in in the centre with a trio Robert O’Donovan, Kieran O’Shea and Cathal Kelly getting the nod in their pack.

Aided by the breeze the Pirates got a tonic start, Michael Hanley slotting over a 3rd minute penalty when the metropolitans were pinged at a scrum. But they quickly had some serious defending to do with Daniel Hawkshaw putting in a try-saving tackle on Alex Molloy just three minutes later. A weak clearance by Liam McNamara then led to a concerted spell of pressure by Old Wesley but the Athlone defence refused to be breached.

Having weathered that early squall, Buccaneers then went on the offensive but Hanley (from a similar position to his early penalty) did not repeat the range on 15 minutes after Old Wesley were caught in possession. However, four minutes later the visitors were in scrum trouble again and this time Hanley put Buccs 6-0 ahead at the end of the opening quarter.

The city side struggled at scrums and, on the half-hour, they conceded another penalty which Stephen Mannion drilled over from inside his own half. A pure beauty! With Boyle in rampant mood and their defence being committed and disciplined, the Shannonsiders were quite comfortable until the 37th minute when Hanley was yellow-carded for a high tackle. Within a minute he was joined controversially by Sean O’Connell for “an accumulation of infringements” after an Old Wesley maul went to ground near halfway. It seemed patently clear that it was a visiting forward who lost his footing, thus bringing down the maul, which should have yielded a penalty to the homesters.

Some ferocious defending by the Pirates ensured they still led 9-0 at the interval and their endeavour kept it that way until they were back to full complement. A thundering 53rd minute Boyle break then sent Mannion racing forward but the centre ignored a two-man overlap to his right and got caught just short of the opposition line. A try at that stage would surely have sealed the issue and would definitely have made the closing exchanges a lot more bearable for the home fans!

Just after the hour mark, Mannion held on too long in possession but Eoin Monahan’s resultant penalty rebounded off an upright and Frank Hopkins cleared the danger. However, Monahan landed a 64th minute placekick to set up an uneasy final quarter for the Pirates, on and off the pitch. Old Wesley’s replacement hooker Howard Noonan then incurred a yellow card but the visitors were now very much in the contest. However, they were held up over the home line with 13 minutes remaining.

Buccaneers had chances too with great breaks by Cian McCann and Hopkins being whistled back; both debateable or marginal calls depending on which group of supporters you were in. In a dramatic conclusion, the Pirates defence was again not found wanting and a lineout steal five metres out by Danny Qualter sealed a first home win of the season for Buccs.

This was a sterling all-round effort by the young home squad with the very consistent hooker Matthew Victory justifying his Audi Athlone Man of the Match accolade. The home back row trio’s workrate was feverish and here Cathal Walsh, one of the smallest forwards on view, is surely Buccs most improved player. Daniel Hawkshaw and Mannion shone in an eager backline that welcomed back Shane Layden after a lengthy injury lay-off as the Athlone side are finally displaying their potential with back to back wins.

BUCCANEERS:- L.McNamara; O.Burgess, D.Hawkshaw, S.Mannion, C.O’Shaughnessy; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins (captain); M.Burke, M.Victory, S.O’Connell; F.Galvin, D.Qualter; C.McCann, C.Walsh and P.Boyle. Replacements:- J.O’Connor (for Burgess, H/t), J.Kelly (for Walsh, temp. 43 mins), S.Layden (for Hanley, 60 mins), G.Daly (for Walsh, 70 mins), D.Bolger and L.MacFarlane.

OLD WESLEY:- T.Larke; T.O’Callaghan, A.Molloy, E.Deegan, N.Randles; E.Monahan, B.Stephens; C.Gleeson, S.Smyth, R.O’Donovan; D.Motyer, B.Corrigan; K.O’Shea, C.Kelly and R.Pim (captain). Replacements:- Harry Noonan (for Gleeson, h/t), J.O’Hare (for O’Shea, 53 mins), S.Burns (for Larke, 53 mins), Howard Noonan (for Smyth, 57 mins), D.Scannell (for Randles, 60 mins) and F.Jemphrey (for Kelly, 70 mins).

Referee:- Sam Holt (IRFU).