There will be a northerly invasion of ‘Pirates’ on Saturday when Buccaneers take on Ballynahinch in the Division 1A promotion/relegation play-off at Ballymacarn Park (kick-off 2.30pm).
The Buccaneers squad greatly appreciated the support at Terenure College recently, particularly by the Women’s team. Now for this most important game of the season, the Athlone club are urging supporters to get mobilised!
Supporters’ buses have been organised for the trip to the scenic County Down foothills for this battle of battles, and those intending to travel by bus need to give their names to club administrator Geraldine. Text her at 0861732711 or email email@example.com as early as possible to book.
Adult fare will not exceed €;15 for the trip, which departs Dubarry Park at 9.15am on Saturday. That should give sufficient time for a ‘pit stop’ en-route and also ensure that supporters arrive early to be part of the big pre-match build-up.
With so much at stake, a full-blooded encounter is anticipated. Both teams finished their respective campaigns strongly with ‘Hinch securing three bonus point victories that helped them avoid automatic relegation from the top flight.
Meanwhile, Buccs were also firing on all cylinders when winning six games in a row to overhaul both Corinthians and UL Bohemians in the run-in and thus earn the play-off spot.
Ballynahinch are doughty battlers, particularly on their own elevated grounds on the slopes of Slieve Croob. You can almost surely bet on it being breezy at this exposed venue.
Derek Suffern’s side gained promotion last season but struggled to get any real momentum until that late sequence of victories staved off relegation.
The ‘Hinch pack is bulky and thrives on mauling play. Loosehead prop Kyle McCall is a key operator here as is the seasoned Chris Stevenson.
Lock Ken Morton and number 8 Michael Graham are their chief lineout targets, while the work on the ground of flanker Paul Pritchard in turning over possession must be negated by the visiting Pirates.
Full-back Rodger McBurney is a strong runner, while winger David McIlwaine also has a penchant for scoring tries. Livewire scrum half Aaron Cairns chases everything so is an all-round danger.
Harry McAleese is likely to be his half-back partner although Richie Lobb will vie for this position. Stuart Morrow skippers the side but the centre is an injury worry for the hosts.
Meanwhile, Buccaneers should be able to select from a full strength squad as the talismanic Kolo Kiripati and dynamic Luke Satchwell look like being fit for this most important game of a long season.
James Tormey too should be fully recovered from the injury sustained at Terenure College. With Daniel Qualter, Conor Kindregan and Mata Fifita in the frame, head coach Tony Dolan has strength and experience to select from in this section of the pack where Evan Galvin, Sam McCormack, Ruairi Byrne, Josh O’Rourke and possibly Cian Romaine could also be involved.
Martin Staunton will surely return to form a competitive and able front row with Garreth Halligan and Diarmuid Higgins. Jacob Walshe and Bryan Teape are also promising options here.
Scrum half Mark Dolan is another player sure to return. He was rested as a precaution against Terenure and his endeavours throughout the season earned him the Connacht Senior Club Player of the Year award last weekend.
His half-back partner Jack Carty was another winner at the province’s annual awards event, being named the Connacht Academy Player of the Year.
This talented duo know each other inside out and can be the fulcrum to a Buccaneers victory on Saturday if they dictate the tempo and territory of the game.
Conor Finn has been in exemplary form of late in the centre alongside canny captain Alex Hayman.
Callum Boland, Shane Layden, Billy Henshaw and Eoghan O’Reilly will all ask questions of ‘Hinch when in possession, while Ger O’Connor (who acquitted himself well in recent outings) and Tiernan O’Halloran are others who could be unleashed in an attack-minded back-line.