BUCCANEERS setbacks continued at sparsely attended Energia Park on Saturday while Old Wesley have come right back into contention for the final play-off berth by virtue of their 40-10 victory. The city side were much too forceful in the first half for the Pirates in this Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B encounter played on the 4G surface at Donnybrook.

Buccs made five changes for this match. In the pack Oisin Dolan replaced the injured Steveni Lombard at hooker and Ruairi Byrne recovered from illness to resume at lock while Fergus Galvin made his first start following a long injury lay-off. Will Reilly got the nod on the left wing with Josh O’Connor available again to man the opposite flank. Old Wesley were unchanged from their vital win over City of Armagh with Gary Bradley following in his father Michael’s tradition at scrumhalf.

On a grey afternoon Buccs began brightly and Reilly looked to be on his way to notching an early try but perplexingly referee Eddie Hogan-O’Connell ruled Conor FitzGibbon’s offload to be forward. Old Wesley promptly made the most of that let-off and made huge yardage following a 50/22. The midlanders were penalised at the subsequent lineout and Will Fay’s swift tap and go caught them napping as he stretched over the line for an 8th minute try.

The Pirates then applied some pressure inside the home 22 where Sean O’Connell got closest, being held up just short. When the metropolitans retrieved possession they worked their way downfield where Dom McClean touched down close to the posts with Ian Cassidy converting this 15th minute try for a 12-0 lead.

A missed tackle helped Alex Molloy gain impetus and he then wrong-footed a number of defenders to score an excellent converted try between the uprights at the end of the opening quarter. Buccs were unable to match the high tempo of Wesley’s play as the homesters stretched their advantage to 26-0 inside half an hour. The city side punished dissent by the visitors, who were getting on the wrong side of the referee, and Cronan Gleeson secured their bonus point try.

McClean powered in for his second try on 35 minutes and a peculiar yellow card to Reilly (the first of his career) added to Buccaneers woes as they trailed 33-0 at the interval. The second half looked like continuing in the same miserable vein for the temporarily depleted Athlone side when two of their players got their signals mixed up dealing with a kick ahead and Molloy swooped for his second try on 44 minutes. Cassidy converted five tries and Buccs will be rightly concerned that five of the six touchdowns were virtually between the uprights.

But now 40-0 in arrears, Buccaneers finally found some form and became more competitive, albeit belatedly. Reilly and O’Connor made some promising breaks but the game was at the three-quarters stage before reward was gained on the scoreboard. This followed the sin-binning of James O’Donovan following a high and cynical tackle on Daniel Hawkshaw. It was a clearcut yellow card offence but took the intervention of a touch-judge for the referee to deem it worthy of more than a mere penalty!

Frank Hopkins made a magnificent break from deep in his own half all the way to the home 22 where he did well to retain possession before the ball was moved to the supporting Stephen Mannion who crossed over for a 60th minute try which he was unable to convert from wide on the left.

Buccs had the better of the exchanges in the final quarter but it took them until the last move of the match to grab their second try. They punted a couple of penalties to touch on the left to pin Old Wesley back. From the second lineout won by Byrne, Buccs got their best maul of the game going. Winger Reilly somehow slipped in seamlessly to the maul and applied the finishing touch and, with Mannion not converting, this completed the 40-10 scoreline.

Buccs were well off the necessary intensity in the first half as Old Wesley, knowing that anything other than a win would end their play-off hopes, constantly made ground and their passing and support play was much sharper. Buccs have gone off the boil in recent weeks and must really galvanise themselves for one hell of a battle when new champions City of Armagh come to Dubarry Park on April 15th. Hopkins and Reilly were the Pirates best performers with Ciaran Booth and Byrne best of the pack where Dylan Bolger was the latest U-20 to gain some AIL experience.

One minute’s silence was observed prior to kick-off in memory of distinguished Old Wesley past player Johnno White.

OLD WESLEY:- A.Molloy; N.Randles, J.O’Donovan, E.Deegan, T.O’Callaghan; I.Cassidy, G.Bradley; Harry Noonan, Howard Noonan, C.Gleeson; D.Motyer, I.McGann (captain); W.Fay, D.McClean and S.Pim. Rolling Replacements:- R.Loftus, S.Kenny, J.O’Hare, D.Poff, E.Monaghan and K.Kavanagh.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Mannion; J.O’Connor, C.FitzGibbon, D.Hawkshaw, W.Reilly; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins; M.Burke, O.Dolan, M.Staunton (captain); R.Byrne, F.Galvin; S.O’Connell, D.Qualter and C.Booth. Replacements:- R.O’Meara (for O’Connell, 48 mins), S.O’Carroll (for Hanley, 48 mins), J.Kelly (for Burke, 54 mins), F.McDonnell (for Galvin, 61 mins), R.Murphy-Sweeney (for Hopkins, 70 mins), D.Bolger (for Dolan, 70 mins), F.Galvin (for O’Meara, inj. 70 mins) and M.Burke (for Staunton, 70 mins).

Referee:- Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (IRFU).

BUCCANEERS ANNUAL AWARDS EVENT is coming up shortly so nominations for Senior, Seconds, Thirds and U-20 Player of the Year should be submitted as soon as possible. Also, of course, nominations are welcome for the Clubperson of the year.