IRREPRESSIBLE BUCCS THIRDS CAPTURE CUP
RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE
BUCCANEERS 33 OUGHTERARD 15
A magnificent first half display laid the foundation as Buccaneers Thirds captured the Ard Na Cregg Cup when they defeated Oughterard 33-15 in a hugely entertaining final played at Corinthian Park, Galway, on Bank Holiday Sunday. Smarting from their League final defeat (the only blot on a truly splendid campaign), this Buccs squad hit the ground running to overcome the fledgling western club in a game played in front of a fine crowd at Clounacauneen.
Buccs had two changes in personnel from the league decider with Rory Silke and Damien Kelly both starting in a realigned backline while faith was maintained in the pack that has served them so well throughout the season. Oughterard, making their first appearance in the final looked to former Ireland star Jack Clarke (whose brother Gearoid was the last captain of Athlone RFC before the club morphed into Buccaneers) for leadership at outhalf.
On a fine afternoon, the midlanders had first benefit of the downfield breeze and this gave the Pirates crucial early assistance. Darren Costello’s penalty for touch from his own ten metre line was badly miscued but an Oughterard back knocked on to give Buccs a scrum in a very promising position. Quick ball was transferred via Nicky Purcell, Costello, Sean Byrne and Keith O’Neill to Mark Tormey and the wing powered over for a 6th minute try wide on the right. Costello added an excellent conversion for the perfect start to a Cup final.
Six minutes later, Buccs should have been awarded a five-metre scrum when an Oughterard player carried the ball back over his own line but a hurried restart by the Co. Galway side went awry and fullback O’Neill promptly counter-attacked to suck in the cover before deftly off-loading to Tormey who pounced for his second try, again in the right corner. Costello was up to the task with another touchline conversion for a 14-0 advantage in as many minutes.
Oughterard were, understandably, somewhat shell-shocked by this early Buccs blitz and the Athlone side continued to pile on the agony through an adroit mix of bullocking runs through the centre, solid ball retention and patient pick-and-goes when necessary. The sustained pressure reaped a thundering 24th minute Trevor Thompson try complemented by another fine Costello conversion.
Buccaneers were also displaying neat handling getting the ball wide with Sean Flynn in typically rumbustious style and wing Silke threatening while one richly promising attack was spoiled by a knock-on. Oughterard were offside in this instance but Costello’s radar for once was off-target with this 29th minute penalty while O’Neill was marginally wide when he smartly attempted a drop goal after collecting the restart.
Two minutes before halftime, Buccs again demonstrated their capabilities with wonderful transfer of ball and direction causing chaos inside the Oughterard 22 and No.8 Byrne powered over for the Pirates fourth try. Costello duly slotted over the conversion from wide on the right and, while the outhalf didn’t find the range with a penalty in the last kick of the first half, Buccaneers were very strongly positioned 28-0 ahead after a supreme effort in the opening period.
However, the silverware was not secure yet as gritty Oughterard, who had enjoyed little luck in the opening forty minutes, were sure to mount a serious assault following the change of ends. This they certainly did in the third quarter, spurred on by James Greene’s try just three minutes after the restart following a quickly tapped penalty after Buccs were caught in possession and the big No.8 stormed through for an uplifting score. Two minutes later, the midlanders had a let off when Silke’s clearance was blocked down but Mark Kavanagh was deemed offside when he gathered possession so no try accrued to the westerners. However, Ciaran O’Flynn who was unable to convert Oughterard’s opening try, soon tapped over a penalty to leave the scoreboard reading 28-8 in favour of the Athlonians.
The game was now really on in earnest and the next score would be vital. Crucially, Buccs did not panic and, with their pack working feverishly and Flynn and Kelly making inroads through the centre, they regained a foothold in opposition territory. Support play was terrific all through and, after some more decent phases, the impish Costello plundered the killer fifth try, taken with aplomb, with a fine angled break to touchdown on the left after 56 minutes. This took considerable steam out of Oughterard’s growing challenge.
But the men from the west were not down and out yet. Fullback Niall Kenny rampaged through the Buccaneers ranks before a wild tackle by his opposite number stopped his progress near the right touchline. Buccs O’Neill could have no complaints about his yellow card and the Pirates regrouped with Kelly temporarily at fullback. Oughterard were again testing Buccs resolve and organisation, which was not found wanting until the 73rd minute, when Kavanagh’s mazy run yielded a well-taken try at the posts. O’Flynn’s conversion narrowed the margin to 33-15 and raised hopes of a grandstand finish. But Buccaneers, with Kelly tidying up a number of situations, were not to be denied on this occasion as they captured the coveted trophy that they last won in 2003.
Buccaneers excellent start deflated Oughterard’s ambitions but the westerners can take warranted pride not only in reaching this final so early in their history but also in the rapid strides they have made since inception as an adult club just three seasons ago. ‘Lady Luck’ did not shine on them either but, on the day, Buccs were simply irrepressible. Obviously motivated by the league decider defeat and more particularly its manner, they were clearly not going to under-perform again on a big match day. There was purpose and cohesion right from the kick off in a tremendous all-round team effort by a very well-drilled squad in which every player rose to the occasion.
The effervescent start ignited the Pirates and they never relented in their quest for glory. Costello showed what he is more than capable off when focussed and he was given a smooth service by the coolly-efficient Purcell. Flynn and Kelly were nigh impenetrable in the centre as well as regularly making good ground while the back three of O’Neill, Tormey and Silke threatened in possession. The pack were rampant in the opening half and then fronted up to Oughterard’s best in the second period. Keith Grehan, Liam Doran and especially Thompson did very well in the front row battles. ‘Captain Fantastic’ Gerry Glynn and particularly David Dunning, until sustaining a nasty injury late in the contest, excelled at lock. No.8 Byrne carried a huge amount of go-forward ball throughout while his backrow cohorts Nigel Flynn and Tristan Couper were always involved in the thick of the action with the latter Buccs main ball winner at lineout time. Replacements George Kenny, Conor Galvin, Vinny McGrath and Daryl Smith saw some action while Paata Rikadze, Levon Didebahsvili, Kian Shanley, Joe Bonnar and Kevin Langdon were other substitutes to savour this victory. Well done to all players and to coach Conor Galvin, manager Craig Milling and assistant Gerry Watson not only for this Cup success but also for their sustained endeavours throughout the season.
BUCCANEERS:- K.O’Neill; M.Tormey, D.Kelly, S.Flynn, R.Silke; D.Costello, N.Purcell; T.Thompson, K.Grehan, L.Doran; D.Dunning, G.Glynn (captain); N.Flynn, T.Couper and S.Byrne. Replacements:- G.Kenny (for Glynn , 65 mins), D.Smith (for Silke, 69 mins), C.Galvin (for N.Flynn, 70 mins), V.McGrath (for Dunning, inj. 77 mins), P.Rikadze, L.Didebahsvili, K.Shanley, J.Bonnar and K.Langdon.
OUGHTERARD:- N.Kenny; E.Walsh, J.Cleggett, C.Ryan, M.Kavanagh; J.Clarke (captain), C.O’Flynn; A.Gibbons, C.Conneely, J.Gibbons; I.Fogerty, T.Campbell; M.Bergin, E.Kelly and J.Greene. Replacements:- A.Dixon (for Clarke), M.Forrestal (for Bergin), A.Conneely (for Fogerty), M.Murray (for A.Gibbons), J.Keogh (for C.Conneely), B.Carey, M.Ruane and C.Delapp.
REFEREE:- Brian Deighan (Connacht).
HENSHAW CONNACHT PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Congratulations to Robert Henshaw on being honoured as Connacht Senior Player of the Year at the province’s Annual Awards ceremony in Galway. This caps a truly momentous season for the young Athlonian and here’s hoping that his current injury clears up in time for him to travel with the Ireland Senior squad to USA shortly.
Well done too to Declan Byrne on his hitherto unknown talents when, with help from Aisling Lennon, winning a recent “Strictly Fun Dancing” event organised jointly by St. Joseph’s F.C. and Bealnamulla Ladies F.C!
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
Buccaneers Annual Awards Night is being incorporated with a revived Dinner Dance which takes place in the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone, on Friday week, May 17th. Presentations will be made at this social event to Buccaneers Player of the Year winners from U-19’s up to Senior level including Womens. Presentations will also be made to Buccs players who were capped by Ireland during the season as well as to the’ Club Person of the Year’ winner. All will be revealed on the night! Tickets are now on sale at the hotel and also from our Administrator Geraldine 086-1732711 and it is hoped to see members past and present support this occasion.
The Annual General Meeting takes place in The Bounty on the following Friday, May 24th at 8 p.m. All paid-up members should have received their AGM notices at this stage. All motions and/or nominations must be returned to the Hon. Secretary by this Friday, May 10th.
Buccaneers Lotto draws continue on Saturday nights and the Jackpot is now €4,000.