BUCCANEERS SECONDS stunned league table toppers Creggs on Sunday when a late penalty try proved the decisive score in a Connacht Junior Cup quarter-final that ebbed and flowed at The Green, Creggs, where the Athlone side edged the verdict on a 31-24 scoreline.

Buccs made four changes from their previous round win over Dunmore with Graham Lynch and Harry Balsiger coming into the backline and Cathal O’Grady and Jack Scouler starting in the pack, the latter a late replacement for Brian McDonnell who failed a fitness test. A primarily crossfield but swirling breeze made life difficult for the contestants but otherwise conditions were good on a sunny but cool afternoon. Buccs were not fazed by the partisan support and, while a Brian Diffley break was an early threat, the Pirates hit the front on 11 minutes. A super diagonal kick by Lynch found touch deep in the home half and the Athlone side piled pressure on the home line where after a number of pick and goes scrumhalf Lynch had the strength and determination to get over for a try which Colin Daly converted.

But that lead was eroded within four minutes. Mark Purcell slotted over a penalty almost from the restart and then he made a fine break before sending Shane Dowd away to outpace the Pirates cover for an unconverted 15th minute try that nosed the hosts 8-7 ahead. A careless tackle earned Fergus Galvin a 23rd minute trip to the sin bin. Following the resultant penalty Creggs mauled forward at a rate of knots and a try seemed inevitable but Rory Grenham bravely pilfered possession and skipper Daly tidied up. However, centre Purcell soon added a second penalty. Coming up to half-time Hopkins made a fine break that was carried on by Ross Murphy-Sweeney that stretched the home defence and then Cedric Fokam stormed forward through the centre as Buccs finished the half on the offensive but Ryan O’Meara was somehow held up over the home line and so Creggs led 11-7 at the break.

Placekicker Purcell landed his third placekick just two minutes into the second half to leave his side ahead by double scores. Twelve minutes later he kicked another penalty although Buccs supporters felt this award should have gone the other way but the midlanders then got a break just before the hour mark when a long low kick ahead was fumbled in front of the posts. The Shannonsiders dominance in the scrum earned them a free following the set-piece and this was tapped swiftly and smartly with O’Meara not to be denied a second time as he powered over between the uprights for a try converted by centre Daly.

But just as they had done after their opening try, Buccaneers conceded another try as Shane Dowd found a gap in midfield and he hared away from halfway to notch his second try which Purcell converted. However, Buccs struck back immediately when Harry Hughes intercepted on his own ten metre line and he sped like greased lightening to score a 64th minute try to which Daly added the extras. The Pirates skipper soon tapped over a penalty to level the scores at 24-24 and set up a grandstand finish in front of the passionate supporters of both teams.
A replay now looked a distinct possibility but Buccs found a new gear and piled on the pressure, going through a protracted sequence of phases, executed calmly and with swift disciplined support. They gradually got close to the home line, forcing Creggs into desperate measures in which Shane Dowd incurred a yellow card. Buccs now went for the jugular and opted for a five-metre scrum with time ticking away. At the second attempt, the referee rewarded the Athlone side’s scrummaging superiority with a penalty try which decided the outcome on a 31-24 margin. Although Buccs were clearly dominant at scrums, the match official did not always see it that way and it was somewhat ironic that he awarded this late decisive score when it was not one of the Pirates better scrums!

It was a highly committed and typically intense Cup tie that was in the balance right to the very end. Both teams endeavoured to move the ball whenever possible but a steadily improving Buccaneers were that bit sharper overall although Creggs seemed to find an avenue up the middle a bit too easily on a number of occasions. The Pirates front row trio were outstanding and Galvin and O’Meara made hard yards regularly while Cian Daly made an impact when introduced. Colin Daly and Hopkins were steadying and influential forces in a youthful backline. This fully deserved victory earns Buccaneers a home semi-final against Ballinrobe on Sunday week. Meanwhile, Creggs season ends in further disappointment following their league final defeat but the nucleus of their squad is youthful with bags of potential on which they can build on.

CREGGS:- S.Purcell; M.Dunne, M.Purcell, E.Coyle, R.Dowd; S.Dowd, M.Dowd; T.Fleming, M.Buckley, A.Leech; B.Donohoe, C.J.Corcoran, R.Cahill and B.Diffley. Replacements:- D.Arnold, P.Lohan, A.Hession, T.Callaghan, C.Duignan and T.O’Brien.

BUCCANEERS:- J.Nagle; R.Murphy-Sweeney, H.Balsiger, Colin Daly (captain), H.Hughes; F.Hopkins, G.Lynch; C.Fokam, R.Grenham, S.O’Connell; S.Kroupa, F.Galvin; C.O’Grady, J.Scouler and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- S.O’Carroll (for Murphy-Sweeney, 50 mins), Cian Daly (for O’Grady, 55 mins), T.Thompson (for Fokam, 63 mins), R.Teape and A.Evans.

Referee:- Dave O’Riordan (Munster).