ST. MARY’S COLLEGE proved too strong for Buccaneers in the opening round of this season’s Energia All-Ireland League, winning 41-25 at Templeville Road on Saturday. The city side got off to a flying start to lead 19-3 inside the opening quarter hour but Buccs gradually worked their way into the contest and did much better as this Division 1B game progressed.
For a variety of reasons Buccaneers fielded a vastly different side to the team that recorded a memorable win at this venue last season. Retirements, transfers, a trio at the RWC and just two Academy players available, meant that this Pirates crew was considerably understrength with just six survivors from last year’s corresponding fixture. Conor O’Shaugnessy, Mark Earle and Matthew Victory made their AIL debuts for the midlanders for whom the Balsiger brothers Harry and Luke started their first AIL match together.
St. Mary’s scored an early try following a fine maul before the ball was spread to the left where Daniel Sancery touched down. Buccs replied with a steady spell of pressure but Victory knocked on in a promising position while the hosts had another slice of good fortune in the lead up to their second try, clearly knocking the ball on near their own 22 before scampering downfield where James Harding finished off a drive following a lineout for a try converted by Mick O’Gara.
The midlanders opened their account with a Stephen Mannion penalty but St. Mary’s responded with their third try, all initiated from winning lineout ball, finished off this time by Sancery for his second converted touchdown inside the opening quarter and a healthy 19-3 lead. Mannion landed his second penalty but Ronan Watters finished off good home pressure to dive over between the uprights for the bonus point try for St. Mary’s. Buccs replied by patiently going through phases before Cian McCann burst through for a try converted by Mannion to leave St. Mary’s ahead at halftime by double scores 26-13.
Harry Balsiger had the first try opportunity following the change of ends but just could not control the bobbling ball and Mannion also suffered a similar fate close to the home line as Buccs had their best spell of territory. A clever diagonal kick by the outhalf then bounced away unkindly from Orrin Burgess before the Shannonsiders enjoyed some luck when Hawkshaw determinedly followed up his long kick head, pressuring O’Gara into a miskick and profiting to pounce for a try. Mannion’s touchline conversion narrowed the arrears to 26-20.
Referee Christopher Lough sustained an injury at this stage and his replacement was soon signalling a home try by Harding following a maul. Conor Dean then intercepted a Frank Hopkins pass to run in from halfway for his side’s sixth try.
Buccs continued to battle and moved the ball from side to side, with backs and forwards all putting in some sterling effort, to send Earle over the home line. Incredibly the replacement referee, who was not ideally positioned, denied what looked a perfectly legitimate try. This proved a costly decision as it denied Buccs a losing bonus point. However, the Athlone side’s endeavours were rewarded with the final score of the contest, Victory being alert after another spell of concerted pressure to dart through for a try to complete the 41-25 scoreline.
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE:- C.Hayes, L.Ramirez, M.Fogarty, M.O’Gara, D.Sancery; C.Dean, A.McEvoy; M.McCormack, J.Harding, J.Reidy-Walsh; D.Leane, L.Corcoran; B.Taylor, E.Baxter and R.Watters (captain). Replacements:- T.O’Reilly, N.McEniff, L.Jack, C.Pierce, A.Walsh and M.Svejdar.
BUCCANEERS:- C.O’Shaughnessy; H.Balsiger, D.Hawkshaw, M.Earle, R.Murphy-Sweeney; S.Mannion, F.Hopkins (captain); J.Kelly, M.Victory, S.O’Connell; F.Galvin, C.McCann; L.Balsiger, C.Walsh and D.Qualter. Replacements:- O.Dolan, D.Bolger, C.Byrne, F.McDonnell, O.Burgess and L.MacFarlane.
Referee:- Christopher Lough (IRFU).