BUCCANEERS completed this season’s Connacht Senior League campaign with a 22-20 victory over Galwegians at Crowley Park, Glenina, on Saturday. Overall Buccs were the better outfit and were leading 22-6 after 50 minutes. But a final quarter slippage allowed the hosts score a brace of tries that set up a nervy and avoidable finish. Similar drops in intensity will not go unpunished in the AIL.
Nevertheless, this was a worthwhile performance and the squad mentors were afforded another opportunity to experiment with permutations ahead of Saturday week’s AIL opener at home to Cashel. Five changes in personnel were made from the win over Corinthians with Danny Qualter making a belated return to the Pirates crew but injury ruled out Tabo Maree.

Although playing up the slope on a dull and increasingly damp afternoon, Buccs made the early running. Stephen Mannion was fractionally off-target with a long-range 10th minute penalty but duly slotted over his second place-kick five minutes later. A series of close-in scrums put the hosts under pressure and as the penalty count mounted referee Shane Doolan awarded a 25th minute penalty try to the visitors whilst also despatching the light blues Gary Lally to the sin bin.

Mark Earle opened Galwegians account with a 28th minute penalty but Buccs continued to force the pace. The applied sustained pressure on the right flank but criminally ignored extra numbers on the opposite flank while a very promising maul was held up short before the half-time whistle at which stage the Athlone side led 10-3.

With the breeze a little fresher on the restart, Wegians made a bright start and Earle drilled over a fine 45th minute penalty from near halfway. But within two minutes, Buccs blocked down an attempted clearance in the home 22. Eoin O’Reilly bravely won possession to move the ball to his left where Rory O’Connor outflanked the home cover for a try to which Mannion added an excellent conversion for a 17-6 advantage.

Three minutes later In the weekend that the soccer world mourned the passing of that wonderful goal poacher Jimmy Greaves, Buccaneers own instinctive try scorer O’Connor struck again to ghost in for his second touchdown. Although this try was not converted, the midlanders looked home and hosed especially when Ben McGuinness was the second home player yellow carded just after the hour mark.

Play continued on 65 minutes while a Buccs player was receiving treatment and Galwegians put their most enterprising phase together with centre Earle finishing off the move on the left for a well-worked try. Then four minutes from time, over elaboration by the Pirates inside their own 22 saw them lose possession and Angelo Johnston punished their carelessness with a try.

Earle, who places the ball almost parallel to the ground for placekicks, duly slotted over both conversions to leave only two points between the teams. But Buccs held out with Mannion calmly clearing growing danger in the final moments. He was one of Buccs brighter performers with other youngsters Lasha Laoshvilli, Sean O’Connell and Tom Shine also doing well.

Sligo’s surprise slip-up at Corinthians means that Buccs finished fourth in the league with Ballina, who were not playing at the weekend, benefitting to win the Senior League title for the first time in 29 years.

GALWEGIANS:- J.Kennedy; S.Feely, A.Neary, M.Earle, C.O’Shaughnessy; A.Cunningham, A.Lambkin; G.Lally, A.Johnston, S.Ryan; M.Towey, B.McGuinness; J.Winters, B.McSweeney and K.Downey. Replacements used:- A.Paton, D.Vergara, M.O’Donnell, R.Deacy and K.Langan.

BUCCANEERS:- M.Hanley; T.McGann, R.O’Connor, T.Shine, R.Murphy-Sweeney; S.Mannion, E.O’Reilly; S.O’Connell, D.Browne, L.Laoshvilli; R.Byrne, F.Galvin; L.Doyle, E.Galvin (captain) and D.Qualter. Replacements:- R.Flanagan (for Doyle, inj. 18 mins), M.Staunton (for Laoshvilli, 55 mins), R.Teape (for O’Connor, 60 mins), A.Flanagan (for Hanley, 60 mins) , R.Grenham (for Browne, 62 mins), G.Fallon (for O’Reilly, 62 mins) and D.Browne (for Qualter, 65 mins).

Referee:- S. Doolan (Connacht).