BUCCS TAKE ON QUEEN’S IN PROMOTION PLAY-OFF DECIDER
BUCCANEERS travel North on Saturday for a date with destiny when they take on season long leaders Queen’s University in the Energia All-Ireland League Division 2A promotion play-off final at The Dub, Belfast, where the action kicks off at 2.30 p.m. This will be a massive test for the Athlone club for the Ulster side were in free-scoring form for most of the campaign, culminating in their 82-14 demolition of Ballymena in their semi-final. However, Buccs competed well with Queen’s for the majority of their two league meetings but the Northerners are ruthless when errors were made as the Pirates found to their cost in both encounters. Yet Buccaneers, who are second highest scorers in Division 2A, can take belief despite those two defeats. Also the Shannonsiders defeated Cashel home and away while the Tipperary outfit figured out how to overcome Queen’s both home and away.
Queen’s have some smashing players with Gary Dillon at No.8 and versatile skipper David Whitten key components in their pack although neither are particularly big forwards. Lorcan McLoughlin is a busy flanker, George Saunderson a powerful scrumager and lock Conor McMenamin a good lineout option. Ritchie McMaster and James Humphreys (both of famed rugby stock) vie for the fly-half berth. Michael Orr, Ben Heath and Jonny Hunter are other backs whose pace will punish if given space particularly through mistakes.
But Buccaneers will be buoyed by their dominant win at Cashel where they excelled in the opening half against doughty opponents and a stiff breeze. Their forwards fronted up when it mattered and the Pirates backs were the more potent crew. Here Saul O’Carroll is regaining his form following a couple of injury setbacks and he is well capable of snaffling a try or two while Josh O’Connor has pace and potential to burn on the other flank. Shane Layden and Stephen Mannion are forceful and effective in the centre and Ruaidhri Fallon is blossoming at fullback. Will Reilly and Michael Hanley dovetail nicely at halfback and there are solid options including Frank Hopkins, Graham Lynch and Rory O’Connor if needed. Sam Illo, Declan Adamson and Charlie Ward are the likely front-row trio, three young players well capable of more than holding their own at this level. If Darragh Murray is fit he is Danny Qualter’s probable partner in the second row but Ruairi Byrne has proved time and again (as he displayed at Cashel) that he can truly be counted on. Oisin McCormack, Ciaran Booth and skipper Evan Galvin have formed a competitive, aggressive and mobile back row unit. Martin Staunton, Tabo Maree, James Kelly, Darren Browne and Cian McCann are other forwards who will not be found wanting if called upon.
In what promises to be a fast-moving, attack-minded duel, key to Buccaneers chances will be the elimination of errors. Treasure possession of the ball and play the game, not the occasion. Keeping it tight and not making mistakes will be crucial on the compact confines at The Dub where pitch markings (the pitch is also used for Gaelic) can add to confusion for visiting teams. The expectation and therefore the pressure is all on Queen’s University but if Buccaneers play to their potential (not just for one half but for the full contest) then they have the ability to upset the hot favourites.