BUCCANEERS recorded their second bonus point victory in the defence of their Bank of Ireland Connacht Senior League title when they defeated Galwegians 23-14 at Crowley Park, Glenina, on Saturday. However, despite outscoring their opponents by 4 tries to 2 for the second successive game, this was a less than convincing display by the Athlone outfit as they found it difficult to get into a flow against the committed light blues who were reduced to 14 players for the second half.

With both halfbacks from last week’s opener injured, Stephen Mannion switched to flyhalf and Colin Daly came in at scrumhalf. Shane Layden returned in the centre and Harry Hughes manned the right wing. The only change in the pack saw Dylan Bolger come in at hooker. Galwegians, meanwhile, were making their first appearance of the campaign and fielded only five survivors from the side that surprised the Pirates last season.

In near ideal playing conditions apart from a blustery breeze, Buccaneers got a perfect start. Good lineout ball was won following a penalty to the right corner and the visitors’ pack drove over the home line for a 2nd minute try by Ryan O’Meara. In a scrappy opening quarter, wind assisted Wegians missed a 6th minute penalty before Buccs doubled their advantage on 22 minutes following a penalty to touch on the left. They spread the ball neatly before it came to Layden and the wily campaigner demonstrated his eye for an opportunity, a delicious dummy unlocking the Blues defence and he surged in for a try with Mannion’s conversion attempt rebounding off an upright.
It seemed that the midlanders would now kick on, 10-0 ahead, but the Tribesmen thought otherwise. They responded with a sustained attack, making the most of advantage being played, and Jack Winters finished the move for a 28th minute try at the posts with Tiernan Neville adding the extras. This reduced the Pirates lead to 10-7 at half-time.

Galwegians suffered a serious blow within seconds of the restart, Robert Holian incurring a red card for a high tackle on James Kelly who was replaced by Charlie Byrne. Buccs pinned Wegians back through a series of penalties until a good maul saw young Bolger ground the ball for a 47th minute try wide on the right.

But the home side stuck to their task and, following their best spell of patient play, they were rewarded when Andrew Sherlock squeezed over for a try on the left with Patrick Nash adding the conversion to leave only a point between the teams just before the hour mark. A deliberate knock-on by Hugo Gens soon reduced Galwegians to 13 players for 10 minutes and Buccs promptly notched their fourth try. Conor O’Shaughnessy and Harry Balsiger were prominent in the build up to this bonus point touchdown by Mannion whose radar was not working at conversion time.

However, the elegant back landed a fine last kick penalty to complete the 23-14 scoreline that denied Galwegians a losing bonus point, which would have been the least they deserved. Overall, the exchanges were frequently sloppy and messy and Buccs were guilty of not rolling away far too often. The lineout misfired throughout with Wegians pilfering regularly here, so there is much room for improvement as the new coaching team experiment and ponder on their options and formations.

BUCCANEERS:- C.O’Shaughnessy; H.Hughes, S.Layden, M.Earle, H.Balsiger; S.Mannion (captain), C.Daly; J.Kelly, D.Bolger, S.O’Connell; C.McCann, F.Galvin; C.Walsh, G.Daly and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- D.Qualter (for McCann, h/t), R.Murphy-Sweeney (for Layden, h/t), C.Byrne (for Kelly, inj. 41 mins), C.McCann (for Qualter, 59 mins), C.Brill (for Bolger, 68 mins) and G.Fallon (for Daly, 69 mins).

GALWEGIANS:- T.Neville; S.Feely, B.Walsh, R.Deacy, J.Munn; P.Nash, A.Sherlock; J.Winters (captain), N.Lawless, M.McColgan; R.Holian, M.Loughlin; D.Keane, H.Gens and B.Barry. Replacements used:- J.Haugh, E.Tarmey, L.Angermann, J.Kennedy, M.J.Duffy and J.Deacy.

Referee:- Andrew Fogarty (Connacht).