This week we will head west to one of Connacht rugby’s powerhouses in Buccaneers. In their current form, the club from Athlone are the result of an amalgamation between Athlone RFC and Ballinasloe RFC in 1993 as they planned an assault on the All Ireland League. The club name goes back to the Shannon Buccaneers who were founded in 1931 and took Irish club rugby by storm but that was short-lived as the club did not return after World War Two.
This left a gap in the midlands for a rugby side and Athlone Town RFC were formed in 1951 in a meeting chaired by the late Dr Jim Keane who went on to be the club’s first president. He also became president of the IRFU but sadly passed away while occupying this role in 1975. The club would later go on to name their grounds after him. The club moved from these grounds on Ballymahon Road to their current home at Duberry Park in the mid-80s. The current facilities are ultra-modern with a 650-seater stand and TV standard lighting meaning the club has played host to numerous Ireland age-grade and women’s matches.
The club’s first trophy came with the capture of the Connacht Senior Cup in 1955 and the Connacht Senior League came a year later. A Junior Cup was won in 1960 but there was a long baron run after this which ended in style with back-to-back Senior Cup wins in 1976 and ’77 – the latter of which was a double with the Senior League.
1973 saw Leo Galvin become the club’s first ever Ireland international while the club is where Robbie Henshaw learned his trade, becoming the first home-grown Ireland senior international. Add to Henshaw, Connacht out half Jack Carty who is another Athlonian. The pair were key parts of the famous Connacht squad who won the Pro12 in 2016. Henshaw has, of course, gone on to represent the British and Irish Lions and is a key cog for both Leinster and Ireland.
Another man who has togged out at Duberry Park and pulled on the green of Ireland is 7s superstar Jordan Conroy. The rapid winger is a genuine superstar of the reduced numbers game and was recently awarded the 7s Player of the year and was named on the team of the year after a stunning 30 tries in 28 matches in 2020. This was eight more scores than his closest competitor YouTube sensation Carlin Isles of the USA and his current total in HSBC World Sevens Series events sits at 45 tries in 43 matches – truly incredible.
Athlone RFC played in the inaugural All Ireland League in Division 2 and had a relatively successful early spell before the amalgamation of the club with Ballinasloe before the 1993/94 season but the early success could not be matched and the club narrowly avoided the drop to Division 4. However, later in the decade, Buccaneers RFC would gain a foothold in the competition and, in 1996, the side won Division 3 unbeaten, helped in large part by former Ireland No.8 Noel Mannion, captain Mike Devine and the Rigney brothers of Des, Brian and Donal.
‘Bucs’ have some of the most committed and passionate supporters in Irish club rugby and their Pirates supporters club helped the club gain promotion to the top table in 1998 after a dramatic two-legged playoff victory over Dungannon. This side was coached by a certain Eddie O’Sullivan and the momentum continued into the following season as an unfancied Bucs side made it all the way to the playoffs again before narrowly succumbing to Cork Con.
O’Sullivan moved on (whatever happened to him?) but the club remained in the top tier until relegation in 2007 before a yo—yo couple of years saw them in Division 1B of the newly-restructured AIL. Recently, it has been a mixed bag on the banks of the River Shannon and successive relegations in 2018 and 2019 means that the club currently reside in Division 2A.
Buccaneers have one of the best youth systems in Ireland which has regularly serviced their 1st XV and the club is very much built from the ground up. This has given them a great platform to build on and head coach and former 1st XV captain Kolo Kiripati and captain Evan Galvin will be hoping to push Buccaneers back up the leagues.
Mark Strange (@realmarkstrange) : I am a freelance sports writer who has been published in soccer, rugby and baseball. I am also an avid fan of ice hockey and just returned last year from a year living and working in Vancouver. I previously played and was PRO for Randalstown Rugby Club before a knee injury cut me down in my prime! I became a Leinster fan when I was younger due to a certain Felipe Contempomi and I am the only blue in a sea of white in Ulster.
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Series lead photo taken from tallaghtrugby.com