Ballynahinch retained their Ulster Bank League Division 1A status as they proved too strong and resourceful for Buccaneers when winning Saturday’s promotion/relegation play-off 35-13 in front of a bumper attendance at Ballymacarn Park.
It was nip and tuck in the opening half hour but a brace of tries before half-time gave Ballynahinch a 25-10 interval lead and thereafter the Pirates were unable to mount a successful comeback.
A mainly diagonal but changeable breeze did not hamper place-kickers David McIlwaine (two) and Jack Carty (one) as the teams traded penalties early on in the otherwise good conditions.
The opening try arrived on 18 minutes after Rodger McBurney made a strong break and offloaded to McIlwaine who should have scored in the right corner.
Buccs somehow held up this attack but the County Down club recycled possession right to left and winger Robin Harte finished off the move with McIlwaine's conversion giving the hosts a 13-3 advantage.
Buccs responded positively with a splendid Carty break and his inviting grubber kick was fastened onto by Shane Layden for a 28th minute try which Carty, who passed a late fitness test to play, converted.
However, Daniel Qualter was injured in the build-up to this score and the lock's absence was a significant blow for the midlanders.
It took 'Hinch just four minutes to reply and again McBurney made ground much too easily through the visitors' defence and the full-back was on hand to finish off this swift counter attack for a try converted by McIlwaine.
With Buccs prop Diarmuid Higgins in the sin-bin, the hosts capitalised and McIlwaine powered forward for a 38th minute try that gave Ballynahinch a solid 25-10 lead at half-time.
Within a minute of the restart, McIlwaine added a penalty but Carty landed a place-kick five minutes later to keep the Athlone side in contention.
The visitors piled on the pressure in the third quarter but without reward, lacking the composure and sheer physical strength to unlock a highly committed and organised 'Hinch defensive effort that was occasionally stretched.
But the nearest the home side came to being breached was when Aaron Cairns was yellow carded on 56 minutes for deliberately handling the ball out of play behind the right corner flag.
'Hinch then took the wind out of the Pirates' sails six minutes later with a little bit of good fortune. A Buccs pass went forward and straight into touch but although referee Sean Gallagher seemed to indicate a scrum, the northerners caught Buccs off guard with a quickly popped ball to McIlwaine on his own 22 and he romped in unchallenged to complete his brace of tries.
His conversion completed the scoring and this touchdown really deflated the visitors whose missed tackles and spurned opportunities proved costly.
Ballynahinch were the sharper, better drilled and hungrier outfit on the day with a superior cutting edge, and they were full value for their win that ensures an Ulster team will again compete next season in the highest division of club rugby in Ireland.
Referee: Sean Gallagher (IRFU)