When Garryowen and Buccaneers met in September they shared out six tries. The same amount were scored at Dooradoyle on Saturday where the Light Blues prevailed on a 28-20 scoreline.
It was a rewarding afternoon's work for Garryowen out-half Jamie Gavin who kicked 13 points to bring his tally for the league season to 105. He was on target early on with a sixth minute penalty.
Gavin's opposite number Callum Boland, replied with a penalty of his own and it was his grubber kick which paved the way for a penalty try on the quarter hour mark. Boland was tackled by Jamie Glynn over the try-line before he had possession of the ball. Referee Nigel Correll rightly awarded a penalty try, duly converted by Boland, and also sin-binned the Garryowen scrum half.
At this stage, a feast of scores and flowing rugby looked likely but Buccs failed to add to their tally while the Light Blues were depleted and the game continued in a relatively tame manner until near half-time.
Frequent scrums was a feature of a stop-start first half with solid home defending repelling the midlanders' two best chances. Garryowen began to make inroads approaching the interval and Gavin landed a second penalty with the final kick of the half to leave his side trailing 10-6 at half-time.
The sun was clouded out now and it was much cooler for the second period. Thankfully, the on-field exchanges hotted up and Garryowen were now forcing the pace, primarily through the influence of their back row trio and regular aerial bombardment of the Pirates' defence.
Approaching the hour mark, Conan Doyle's men finally made a breakthrough with Neil Cronin increasing his influence at scrum. After punting a penalty into touch on the left, they moved the ball across the pitch for winger Alex Wootton to touch down for a 59th minute try in the corner.
Five minutes later, Gavin landed a fine penalty to add to the Limerick side's momentum. Impressive replacement Steve McMahon then ghosted by a weak attempted tackle for a 67th minute try and Ed Rossiter finished off further strong home play for their third try shortly afterwards.
With Gavin converting both tries for a 28-10 lead, Garryowen set about chasing a bonus point try. But Buccs rallied and Rory O'Connor capitalised on good play for an unconverted 77th minute try in the left corner.
In the closing moments, Garryowen full-back Lorcan Bourke was yellow carded for a high tackle on Daniel Qualter and the Athlone men made the most of their numerical superiority this time with Stephen McVeigh driving over for a try.
However, Buccs went home empty-handed as Boland's conversion attempt rebounded off an upright to deny them a losing bonus point. They remain in fifth position while Garryowen are now only two points adrift of table toppers Galwegians and just a single point behind second-placed Ballymena.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner afterwards, Garryowen player-coach Conan Doyle said: “When you think we were 11 points behind Galwegians only three rounds ago, we have to be happy at how things are going.
“We made too many mistakes early on but there was a different momentum in the second half. The ball carrying of Shane Buckley and the work of the pack was terrific and then there is the luxury of having probably the two best scrum halves in the league in Neilly Cronin and Jamie Glynn.
“We were able to interchange the two of them and even moved Jamie to the centre for a while. Choosing between the two of them is a nice headache to have.”
* A minute's silence was observed before kick-off in memory of Brian Morrissey, who died tragically over the Christmas period
Referee: Nigel Correll (IRFU)