A strong start to both halves laid the foundations for Ballynahinch’s victory over Buccaneers in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B opener which was played in near ideal conditions at Dubarry Park.
It was an emotional day for Ballynahinch, their first outing since the tragic deaths of Nevin Spence, his brother Graham and their father Noel, for whom one minute of applause was celebrated prior to kick-off.
Both teams were much changed from the correspondent fixture last season with Buccs debuting an allnew front row trio of Johannes Roets, Enda O'Brien and Peter Reilly. Conor Fitzgibbon started in the centre of a very young back-line.
The County Down side too depended on youth and thus the game began in helter skelter fashion in front of a modest attendance.
Ballynahinch had first benefit of the diagonal breeze and were quickly out of the starting blocks to pin the hosts back.
They eventually capitalised on a missed tackle in midfield and Aaron Ferris provided the overlap down the left flank before grounding the ball for a try at the posts after just seven minutes. Michael Lawton added the conversion.
But with skipper Kolo Kiripati at the helm, the Pirates steadied their ship and soon were on the offensive with Fitzgibbon and Callum Boland making sniping raids that led to a 12th minute penalty duly slotted over by Jack Carty.
As the game entered the second quarter, James Tormey made a splendid rob inside his own 22 and this led to a concerted spell of pressure by Buccaneers.
'Hinch defended a number of close-in penalties before Kiripati's swift tap and go caught them napping for a 22nd minute try. Carty could not convert but landed a penalty five minutes later to leave the hosts 11-7 ahead.
Lawton and Carty traded penalties amid the frenetic exchanges before Buccs suffered a major double whammy just before half-time.
The inspiring Kiripati sustained an ankle injury in the 38th minute and, with the Athlone outfit disorganised in the aftermath, Aaron Cairns dived over at the posts for an opportunist try which Lawton converted for a 17-14 interval advantage for 'Hinch.
'Hinch made an early breakthrough on the resumption, Chris Napier powering over for a 44th minute try on the left following a decent spell of pressure. Lawton added a fine conversion to put ten points between the teams as Buccs struggled in the third quarter.
This period was stop-start due to some injury breaks and scrums were uncontested from 50 minutes due to injuries in the Ballynahinch front row. Just after the hour mark, Carty punished a high tackle with a good penalty and this rejuvenated the midlanders.
John O'Brien finally began to get a decent supply of ball and the full-back's mazy running caused regular problems for the visitors for the rest of the game.
He made a superb break on the 70-minute mark to link up with David Heffernan who offloaded to Billy Henshaw but the winger's drive for the line was stopped when a pass to an overlapping team-mate would surely have reaped a try.
Boland and Carty also came close while 'Hinch full-back Adam Craig put in a try-saving tackle on Conor Finn, but the pressure was now telling on the visitors and some desperate defending drew the ire of referee Olly Hodges who yellow carded Harry McAleese for slowing the ball.
Buccs opted not to kick the straight-forward penalty but failed to penetrate stout 'Hinch defending, despite the Pirates' numerical superiority.
Then, in the final move of the game, Barry Digby obstructed Lawton as the Ulstermen's winger chased his own kick ahead. Digby somehow escaped the sin-bin but Lawton rubbed salt into home wounds when he landed the resultant penalty, which was the last kick of the contest, to deny Buccs even a losing bonus point.
This was a game that really could have gone either way but the injury to influential captain Kiripati was the decisive incident.
He had looked good for the man-of-the-match accolade which was awarded to Eoghan Grace and Buccaneers lacked guile and patience when needed in the closing finale. Tormey was outstanding while John O'Brien, Henshaw and Reilly also made notable contributions.
Wily prop Chris Stevenson led Ballynahinch by example and got key support from Napier and Paul Pritchard to grab a win that will doubtless give an invaluable lift to the Down club at this difficult time.
Referee: Olly Hodges (IRFU)