Buccaneers meet UCD on Saturday

Buccaneers and University College, Dublin, square up to each other in a winner takes all AIB League Division One basement battle at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday, kick off 2.30 p.m. Both sides are presently locked together on 18 points at the bottom of the league table with just two series of fixtures remaining.  Buccs scoring difference is 29 points better but, with the two bottom sides being automatically relegated this season, that statistic will not suffice the midlanders’ on its own. And following their recent loss away to Belfast Harlequins, survival is now out of their own hands and they simply must win in this Easter Saturday clash if they are to go in to their final match with any chance of avoiding the dreaded drop. Buccs have been sliding down the league rankings with alarming haste since the start of the year and, perhaps more crucially, they have been unable to pick up bonus points in the process. Only three other clubs in the three divisions have the same or less bonus points accrued! Admittedly, injuries have not helped the Athlone side in their quest, particularly to their backline where Niall O’Hara, Conor O’Loughlin, Ted Robinson, William Wallace and David Connellan were ruled out of the vital game at Harlequins. The latter pair should be fit for consideration for Saturday’s crunch tie but Chris Keane will be needed by Connacht at the weekend while young Alan Gaughan will be in Belfast for Ireland’s U-19 World Cup campaign. So options in the backs division will again be restricted for the battle with the Students. However, in Mark Bruce, Tom Cregan and Aidan Wynne, Buccaneers have backs of proven potential while Sean Carey, Alex Hayman and Gearoid O’Grady too will be eager to confirm their merit. But with UCD having a potent backs unit, the primary responsibility may be taken on by Buccs forwards on Saturday. Here they will need to be diligent and disciplined, workrate must be of the highest order, and an ability to read the game critical. Cohesion and decision-making can be the key to a hugely needed victory, for Buccs may need to be patient and go through sustained phases. Pressure is on both sides, but the Buccaneers players must absolutely stand up and be counted on this occasion. Conor Hartigan, David McGowan, Michael Diffley and David Kelly have shown (such as against Cork Constitution, Garryowen, Dungannon and Ballymena) that they can front up with the best when in the mood. They simply must be in the humour right from the opening whistle to the bitter end against UCD. Killian O’Neill, Colin Finnerty and Pat Cunningham must put in sustained efforts while Garrett Halligan, Adrian Hanley, Kieran O’Gorman and Benny Gilligan are others who can be counted on when the going gets tough. UCD had a quartet of players involved with the successful Ireland U-20 squad with halfbacks Ian Keatley and Paul O’Donohoe making up a dynamic partnership that must be curbed by Buccs. Discipline will be a priority for the hosts as supporters at Ireland’s games in Dubarry Park will recall Keatley’s adroit place-kicking skills. Second row Conor McInerney and No.8 Sean O’Brien also featured this season while centre Fergus McFadden (another prodigious place-kicker) and winger Vasily Artemiev too have worn the green of Ireland at Saturday’s venue. Back row forward Kevin Croke and Kiwi lock Richard Mandeno could be joined in the starting lineup by Leinster duo Robert Kearney and Cillian Willis as both outfits go for broke. The Students are likely to endeavour to move the ball swiftly on the now firmer sod but Buccaneers must impose their will on the proceedings in this game sponsored by Glasson Golf Hotel & Country Club. Nervous tension could be a deciding factor in this duel but if Buccs harness this to a good work ethic, then they can edge out a fraught affair. And, with so much at stake for the midlanders, here’s hoping for a decent crowd to lift Buccaneers in this vital battle. Harlequins, of course, are still in the danger zone but their fortunes have had an amazing turnaround since Alan Solomon came on board at the start of the year after the Belfast side had lost their opening nine AIB League games. Since then, they have won every game they have played — in the league, Ulster Cup and most recently now into the AIB Cup final. They travel to arch rivals Ballymena on Saturday as they bid to continue their Houdini like change of fortunes but the Braidmen are also in dire need of points so that too will be a mighty battle in which the outcome could go either way. Dolphin is the other side still in the danger zone and they travel to HQ to face Lansdowne who are safely snuggled in mid-table. BELFAST HARLEQUINS’ resurgence continues with their surprise 32-28 home win over favourites Shannon earning them a place in the AIB Senior Cup final to be staged at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday week. As expected, Garryowen overcame the challenge of Division Two side Clonakilty at Dooradoyle but their 32-13 home victory was not as clearcut as the margin indicates. Ulster will also be represented in the AIB Junior Cup final when Coleraine tackle Seapoint from Dublin which gets the proceedings under way at 2 p.m. with the Senior decider following at 4 p.m. It promises to be a gala occasion with a bumper crowd anticipated. Cash will be taken at the turnstiles on the day so come along and enjoy another feast of rugby at Dubarry Park. The legendary Finbarr Furey and his band will be the main attraction at Buccaneers third ‘Annual Awards Night’ which takes place in the Radisson SAS Hotel, Athlone, on Friday night, May 11 th . This social event is quickly growing in popularity and the confirmation of a lead act such as Furey and his band should greatly add to the occasion. Tickets will shortly be on sale from committee members or from our Administrator Geraldine, who may be contacted at 086-1732711 (mornings). Tables can be pre-booked. Watch this space for full details soon. ‘Bag Packing’ in aid of underage rugby takes place in Dunnes Stores (both Montree and Irishtown) this Good Friday, April 6 th . Parents and youths willing to volunteer should contact our Administrator Geraldine at 086-1732711 (mornings) so that rotas can be finalised. Two hour shifts are the norm for this fund-raiser, and the more volunteers the easier the task.