Victory in Cork moves Buccs up to second
HIGHFIELD 14 BUCCANEERS 17
BUCCANEERS came out tops against both Highfield and the elements at Woodleigh Park, Cork, where the midlanders won a well-contested Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B encounter on Saturday. Although this clash of second against fourth commenced in sunshine, the wind and then the rain got progressively worse as the match progressed, making it as much a battle of wills as a sporting duel. Buccs won on both counts and in the process traded places in the league table with the Corkonians by virtue of a merited 17-14 victory, the margin of which should really have been greater. Nevertheless, the Pirates will have been happy to make a successful raid on the real capital where loot can be difficult to come by.
The Athlone side made two changes, both enforced, from their win against Old Wesley. Ruaidhri Fallon started at standoff instead of the injured Michael Hanley while, with Ciaran Booth unavailable, Sean O’Connell came in at blindside flanker with Darragh Murray moving to openside and Oisin McCormack packing down at No.8.
One minute’s silence in memory of the ten people who lost their lives in the Creeslough tragedy was observed before international referee George Clancy got the match underway.
A strong crossfield breeze at kick-off time made conditions tricky for place-kickers and hookers throughout the game. Following a late tackle on McCormack, Buccs had the first scoring opportunity but Stephen Mannion’s 9th minute penalty which looked on target tailed just wide. Three minutes later it seemed like the Shannonsiders had unlocked the home defence when Mannion and Shane Layden linked in midfield and the latter’s grubber kick ahead was chased up by Saul O’Carroll. But a touch-judge deemed that the winger had knocked on when endeavouring to ground the ball when tackled by Richard Cassidy in the left corner.
However, Buccaneers early threats reaped reward just a couple of minutes later. Layden passed to O’Carroll wide on the left and the winger’s neat pass infield to Josh O’Connor split the home defence enabling O’Connor to speed away for a 14th minute try finished with aplomb and converted by Mannion.
Shortly afterwards play continued while Martin Staunton was receiving treatment and injury forced the splendid warrior off at the end of the opening quarter with Sam Illo entering the fray. With increasingly heavy showers now making the conditions even more trying, Highfield got a foothold in the contest. A number of penalties helped them progress down the left flank and they drove over the Buccs line for a try by Munster prop James French. James Taylor’s conversion levelled the scores after 29 minutes.
Five minutes later home lock Sean Garrett was yellow-carded as Buccs pressed forward. The resultant penalty was punted to a very promising position in the left corner but the lineout went awry and the visitors failed to add to their tally while the hosts were depleted, leaving the sides tied 7-7 at half-time.
Conditions deteriorated considerably during the third quarter with Buccs now having to deal with the difficult breeze and a deluge of rain in their faces. A Steveni Lombard rumble brought Buccs close to the home line and in the follow-up move McCormack looked like bursting over to score but the combination of the greasy ball and some stout defending denied the backrower just three minutes into the second half while a wicked bounce denied him later on. Shortly afterwards a clearcut offside helped the Rebels clear their lines but Buccaneers were now playing their best rugby and were dominating territory and possession.
Mannion was narrowly off-target with a 53rd minute penalty in the testing conditions but Buccs soon notched their second try. A long clearance to touch by Fallon got a deflection and Will Reilly fastened on to the ball following a rare untidy Buccs lineout. The replacement scrumhalf showed a clean pair of heels to scamper through five attempted tackles for a smartly taken 55th minute try which Mannion converted.
As Buccs continued to surge forward they earned a 63rd minute penalty which Mannion slotted over to push his side 17-7 ahead. With the rain abating Highfield rallied in the closing stages and the Pirates had to display their defensive qualities. Seven minutes from time the homesters forced a penalty which they punted to the left corner from where they got a promising maul going. The busy McCormack was sin-binned for slowing their progress illegally and the referee also awarded a penalty try to Highfield.
This tightened their arrears to just three points and set up a grandstand finish as they finally came alive. But Buccs defended heroically with commitment, discipline and organisation to hold on for a fully deserved 17-14 victory that elevates the midlanders to second place on the league table.
The winners were unfortunate more than once to not add to their try tally particularly following the change of ends but then rolled up their collective sleeves to protect their narrow advantage in a frantic finish. McCormack was prominent throughout, Lombard revelled in the going as did Layden, and Murray lorded the lineouts. But again it was another all-round team contribution with O’Connell, Frankie Hopkins and Ruairi Byrne (thankfully coaxed out of retirement) making noticeable inputs too. Dave O’Connell, David O’Sullivan and Shane Buckley did best for Highfield.
HIGHFIELD:- M.McLoughlin; B.Murphy, C.Bohane, D.O’Sullivan, G.O’Leary; J.Taylor, R.Cassidy; C.Buckley, T.Coomey, J.French; S.Garrett, D.O’Connell (captain); E.Earle, A.Porter and M.Cronin. Replacements:- A.Keane (for Garrett, 42 mins), C.Bannon (for Cassidy, 56 mins), S.Buckley (for Taylor, 64 mins), D.Fitzgerald (for Buckley, 64 mins), R.Murphy (for Coomey, 64 mins), S.Garrett (for Keane, 68 mins, inj.), J.Taylor (for O’Leary, 69 mins) and M.Fitzgibbon (for Earle, 74 mins).
BUCCANEERS:- S.Jennings; J.O’Connor, S.Layden, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; R.Fallon, F.Hopkins; M.Burke, S.Lombard, M.Staunton (captain); R.Byrne, F.Galvin; S.O’Connell, D.Murray and O.McCormack. Replacements:- S.Illo (for Staunton, inj. 21 mins), W.Reilly (for Hopkins, 52 mins), D.Browne, C.McCann, T.Shine and O.Burgess.
Referee:- George Clancy (IRFU).