BUCCANEERS THIRDS and their Corinthians counterparts provided an absorbing contest to decide this season’s Bank of Ireland Connacht Junior 2 League champions at Loughrea on Sunday with a fitter and committed Pirates crew proving worthy winners on a 17-3 scoreline.

On a bright but windy afternoon, both teams made personnel changes from their recent encounter at Dubarry Park where the Pirates came out on top in what was a must win fixture for them. The Athlone side made changes in each of the three rows in their pack with wily duo Niall Harney and Anthony Hughes starting on this occasion and Liam Doyle adding some youthful exuberance there while they fielded an unchanged backline. Corinthians had six changes from that encounter, split evenly between backs and forwards.

Buccs had first benefit of the influential breeze and an Alex Hayman interception led to a 6th minute penalty converted by Darren Costello. The city side were pinned back for most of the first half but a splendid 10th minute break from inside his own 22 by David Savage saw him advance deep into the midlanders’ half where Declan Byrne halted his progress. Corinthians forged a penalty which Conor Allen slotted over to level the scores.

Buccs enjoyed huge territorial dominance but failed to translate it into scores, even during Stephen Ward’s ten minutes in the sin bin following a high tackle by the prop. Like their Seniors the previous day, Buccaneers lineouts went awry all too often. Why they persisted so long with long throws in the windy conditions is a mystery. Several good opportunities were spoiled through poor handling and decision making. The Tribesmens aggressive but disciplined defending was another factor.

With time ebbing out in the half, Buccs were awarded a number of close-in penalties. One of these was directly in front of the posts and the three points should have been taken to ensure they led at the interval. They opted for a tap and go but messed up and conceded a relieving penalty in the process. But Corinthians lost control of the ball following the resultant lineout and Buccaneers pounced to gain possession. This time they went through the phases much more clinically than earlier and were rewarded when Doyle crashed over the line for a try. Costello added the conversion to give his side a valuable 10-3 advantage.

Corinthians, with the strong wind behind them for the second half, would have been the happier outfit at this stage. But the Shannonsiders realigned at the break, did some stiff talking, and were a reinvigorated and more organised force following the change of ends. Tony Ward and Garreth Halligan were introduced and Buccs were much more purposeful, carrying the ball to great effect.

They consistently made ground through effective pick and goes, and piled pressure close to their opponents line. Corinthians continued to defend heroically but Buccs looked certain to score on 51 minutes when, after a siege, the ball was spun left to Costello but the fullback knocked on with the line abegging.
Buccs were now winning most of the collisions but could not add to their tally in front of a decent and vocal attendance. Corinthians threatened infrequently as the Pirates were now dominating with Hayman leading by example in the backline where James Downes did well and Keith Grehan (untypically disciplined!) and Ward playing like Duracell Bunnies in an unrelenting effort by the pack.

It seemed like Buccaneers just would not add to their tally and ease the nerves of their many supporters but, when Corinthians got their signals mixed up in the closing minutes the Pirates capitalised, Leon O’Connor bursting over the line for a 77th minute try converted by David Fagan.

Corinthians made a steady stream of rolling substitutions, their squad perhaps not as fit as the winners, while Buccaneers made more judicious use off their bench. Overall, the Athlonians were full value for their victory based on a fine all-round team performance. The revival of Buccaneers Thirds this season has been well worth the effort and credit is due to the players and their mentors on their achievements to date ahead of the Ard-Na-Cregg Cup.

After what was a competitive but sporting contest, the league trophy was presented on behalf of Connacht Rugby by Ciaran Smyth to Buccaneers joint captains Trevor Thompson and Niall Harney.

BUCCANEERS:- D.Costello; D.Byrne, J.Downes, A.Hayman, H.Hughes; D.Fagan, D.O’Rourke; K.Grehan, R.Grenham, N.Harney (captain); G.Kenny, A.Hughes; M.Lyons, L.Doyle and S.Byrne. Replacements:- T.Ward (for Doyle, h/t), G.Halligan (for Hughes, h/t), A.Hughes (for Kenny 47 mins), L.Doyle (for Lyons, 55 mins), L.O’Connor (for Costello, 55 mins), G.Fallon, S.Flynn, E.Slevin, L.Baker and J.Henson.

CORINTHIANS:- O.Jordan; C.Dolan, M.Lyons, D.Tierney, D.Savage; C.Allen, B.Murphy; S.Ward, P.Shaughnessy, S.Flaherty; S.Kelly, D.Hogan; O.Behan, J.West and L.Smyth (captain). Rollings Replacements:- D.Keane, S.Breathnach, C.McEvoy, S.Iredale and A.Bryan.

Referee:- Mark Fitzgerald (Connacht).