Underage provincial success as Buccaneer’s claim richly deserved Connacht accolade




Buccaneers captured the Connacht U16 League title with a hard-earned but truly deserved 13-8 final victory over Sligo at Heffernan Park, Ballina, on Sunday.

Buccaneers and Sligo served up a classic final showpiece, with a high level of skill and intensity, with end to end rugby, that never let up for the entire game. Buccs struck first following a scrum just inside the Sligo 22 their captain Kyle Byrne went on a barnstorming run that sucked in a number of the defenders. The ball was passed slickly through the back line reaching Andrew Henson who showed power and pace to stretch over the Sligo line and the fullback was unfortunate to miss the conversion.

Sligo came back at Buccs with pace and intensity, putting great width on their game, and they made a number of raids inside the Pirates 22 but were thwarted by excellent Buccs defence. However, Sligo’s ability to hold on to the ball forced the Athlonians to stray offside. From the resulting penalty Sligo very cleverly tapped and went, shaping for a forward carry but instead went out the back and very slick handling resulted in an unconverted try in the corner.

Buccs made inroads through good carries by No.8 Byrne, Stephen O’Connor and Kailin Blessing, in particular, coupled with good lines of running from Henson, Kyle Mahon and Eoin McCormack, pinning Sligo back. Sligo infringed at a ruck just outside their 22 and Henson was on hand to slot the three points. From the resulting drop-off deep into Buccs 22 Byrne gathered and marauded forward, the ball quickly recycled and Brian Doyle released his backs down left touchline. Mahon showed lovely feet and an audacious offload to Luke Marjanovic who scorched down the wing. When the cover got to him he delivered a wonderful one handed offload back into the supporting Blessing who carried deep into the Sligo 22 where he was eventually dragged down.

Quick ruck ball allowed Byrne to carry effectively beyond the gainline, Doyle was on hand again to release his backs and with excellent hands through the centres the ball arrived into Henson’s hands. He sold an outrageous dummy to send the defence hurtling one way while he cut back in and showed his tremendous pace and strength to score in the same corner. Henson was extremely unlucky that his conversion bounced off the crossbar and wide. This soon brought a close to a breathless first with Buccaneers 13-5 ahead.

Similar to the Ireland/France game the previous day the second half became a more cagey affair. Sligo came out in a very determined mood but Buccs were not found wanting as they rolled up their collective sleeves to repel the Sligo efforts. Sligo got the opportunity midway through the second half to slot a penalty for a five point gap and set up a grandstand finish.

The ball switched hands numerous times during a frenetic last 10 mins with each team enjoying brief spells of superiority. Buccs ability to go multiphase and hold on to the ball as well as a mean defence denied opportunities for their opponents. Buccs held on and held out for a very merited victory against a quality Sligo.

Buccs having succumbed to Sligo in both the league and cup finals last year, were understandably overjoyed at the final whistle. Buccs victory was founded on a tough forward battle where Blessing and Byrne shone, along with the tireless work of Conor McCormack who excelled at the breakdown. In the backs the halfbacks of Diarmaid Lyons and Doyle orchestrated matters with Mahon and Eoin McCormack looking threatening with ball in hand.

The final word must go to the outstanding Andrew Henson at full back, who scored all Buccaneers points. He was a constant threat on the ball and rock solid defensively throughout. The League trophy was presented on behalf of Connacht Rugby by Deirdre Whyte to victorious Buccaneers captain Kyle Byrne. Congratulations to all the players in the squad and their mentors Paul Byrne, David Dunning, Karl Henson, Wesley Hudson and Pete Mahon.

Footnote - This scribe is puzzled that Ballina was selected as venue, being only 60km from Sligo but over twice that from Athlone at 130km away?

BUCCANEERS:- A.Henson; D.Burke, E.McCormack, K.Mahon, L.Marjanovic; B.Doyle, D.Lyons; K.Blessing, E.Rooney-Digan, D.O’Leochain; R.Heaslip, T.Stuart-Trainor; S.O’Connor, C.McCormack and K.Byrne (captain ). Replacements:- I.Jocher, J.O’Reilly, C.Hudson, M.O’Connor, M.Turner, T.Mason, C.Whitney and S.Duffy.

Buccaneers Away to UCC

When Buccaneers entertained University College Cork at Dubarry Park last November it was first versus second, the Pirates Energia league leaders due to scoring difference. Buccs taught the Students a lesson or two in a 29-0 victory, one of the Midlanders best performances this season. Despite a couple of hiccups in the interim, they travel to The Mardyke, Cork, on Saturday still on top of Division 1B, again due to scoring difference with City of Armagh now hot on the heels of the Shannonsiders.

Meanwhile, UCC have slipped to eighth on the league table following five defeats in a row. Some of those losses where hefty ones but College regrouped last time out to win 19-18 away to Old Wesley. They are a better side than their league position suggests and they will be smarting from the trimming they got in Athlone. The sideline contest between two former international coaches Eddie O’Sullivan and Michael Bradley adds an extra and intriguing dimension to this match.

UCC were relegated from 1A last season and looked on track to make a strong bid for a swift return to the top flight but somehow lost their way mid-season. They have decent players in their ranks capable of undoing any other team in 1B and, consequently, Buccaneers will need to be on guard, committed and ruthless once the action kicks off at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday. But, if the Pirates are close to full strength, they have the wherewithal to continue being the surprise packets in this division.


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