Evolution has shown the future to Athlone's 'Pirates'
Buccaneers RFC evolved from Athlone RFC, which was founded in 1951. Earlier, Shannon Buccaneers was a successful rugby club in the town between the two World Wars winning two Towns Cups, while the Athlone club officially changed its name to Buccaneers RFC in 2006/'07.
Athlone won five Connacht Senior Cups and four Senior League titles as well as a range of junior and underage triumphs. The first taste of success was a Senior Cup in 1955 and Athlone recorded its only Senior League and Cup double in 1977.
The underage sector grew modestly over the years with the U-18s All-Ireland Cup 2001 triumph being a key achievement. The club's first president was Dr Jim Keane, who passed away when IRFU president in 1975, and the late Michael O'Meara was captain. Leo Galvin was the first Athlone clubman to play for the Ireland Senior XV in 1973.
Athlone qualified for the inaugural All-Ireland League in which Tommy Conlon scored the first ever try by any player in that competition! Paddy Kilcommons, Derry Fitzpatrick (nurturing and coaching underage players for nigh on 50 years now), David Henshaw, Ray McLoughlin, Kevin Canavan, Pat Hynes and Michael Stapleton are some of Athlone's notable players and characters.
Following a revamp of the AIL, Athlone were lucky to avoid relegation to Division 4 and, in order to compete, they came together with Ballinasloe in 1993/'94 before adopting the name Buccaneers the following season. Buccs, with four Rigney brothers and Noel Mannion in their pack, claimed the Division 3 title in 1996/'97 and, with Eddie O'Sullivan at the helm, the Pirates defeated Dungannon the following season in a promotion play-off to reach Division 1.
That heyday of club rugby heralded the first ever singing of 'The Fields of Athenry' by the 'Pirates' supporters led by Paudge Finn (father of current stalwart Conor), a song that has since been adopted as an anthem far and wide. Buccs reached the Top Four on a number of occasions but were relegated in 2006/'07.
However, under the stewardship of Tony Dolan and Jude Lennon, they came straight back up, winning Division 2 in the process. Meanwhile, Ballinasloe withdrew from the amalgamation in 2005/'06.
Buccaneers have flirted with promotion back to Division 1A in recent seasons and the midlanders under coach Dolan hope to be in contention again this term.
The club currently fields four adult men's squads with the seniors being the only midlands club competing in Division 1 of the AIL. Buccs have regularly won Connacht titles including Senior League and Cup doubles in the 'noughties'.
Eoin Brennan, Mike Devine, Jimmy Screene, Martin Cahill and Gavin Schoeman were key players in this period with Garreth Halligan, Alex Hayman (current club captain) and Kolo Kiripati carrying on that mantle in recent times. Niamh Ni Dhroma is our leading women's player.
The U-20 squad has fared quite well too and currently tops the North section of the Donal Walsh Trophy. The U-19 team won the All-Ireland Cup in 2010/'11. The Seconds squad presently lead their Connacht League division while the thirds won promotion last season.
Our women's team have been a breath of fresh air around the club since their formation just over three years ago and already they have won Connacht League and Cup honours. Indeed the presence of the ladies is to the fore in rugby matters as well as social in the club with the innovative appointment this season of Claire Wyper as football chairperson.
Growth at underage level is mushrooming with youths and minis teams being fielded at 12 grades. Such are the numbers wishing to play in this sector that the club is fielding two squads in some categories and dearly needs further pitches to cater for the spiralling numbers now playing. Many young Buccs players have worn the green of Ireland in recent seasons and Robbie Henshaw became our first home-bred full senior international last year. Meanwhile, girls rugby has commenced this season.
The club has made strong progress on and off the field, including the purchase and development of the impressive grounds, dressing-rooms and stadium facilities which were officially opened and renamed Dubarry Park in 2003.
The main pitch boasts a 650-seater stand and covered terracing as well as floodlighting that originated via Croke Park!
There are two other pitches plus training areas. €60,000 was spent on the pitches in the past couple of years, half that sum on the main arena. National finals have been played here and Ireland U-20s have hosted their Junior Six Nations championship home fixtures in Athlone since 2005.
Various Connacht squads utilise Dubarry Park too including a recent open training session by their senior panel. The substantial clubhouse features 'The Bounty' public bar and restaurant (a finalist in the "Ireland Great Carvery 2012") that serves top-class food and drinks daily.
It takes huge commitment, time and funding to keep so many teams on the go. Fundraising takes many forms from jerseys, pitch hoardings, 'Sevens in the City' women-only Sevens tournament, lotto, sponsored cycles and runs and quizzes, and the club is possibly the only one still producing a 100-page match-day programme. One new project this year featuring male and female players is a "nearly bare calendar"… for just €10 all will be revealed (almost!) It can be purchased on-line via www.buccaneersrfc.com
All could not happen without numerous volunteers and supporters, be they coaches, managers, administrators or players, and many generous sponsors. Audi Athlone is the club's title sponsor, while Dubarry of Ireland is the ground sponsor. The club thanks them all for their continued patronage and new 'pirates' are always welcome on board to assist in a wide range of capacities.
Contact details: Administrator 0861732711 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Website www.buccaneersrfc.com
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