BUCCANEERS coach Hendre Marnitz has praised his side's strong local contingent after the Athlone outfit continued their fine start to the Ulster Bank League Division 1B with a thrilling victory over Ballynahinch at Dubarry Park last weekend.
A 24-17 win, sealed by Shane Layden's late try and a superb conversion from the deadly boot of Kiltoom native Jack Carty, saw Buccaneers leapfrog their opponents into first position in the league table after five matches.
Outstanding fly-half Carty has been ably supported in this year's team by fellow Athlone natives such as Callum Boland (voted Man of the Match in last weekend's win), scrum-half duo Mark Dolan and Adam Kennedy, and Ireland under-20 international Daniel Qualter. Long-serving club stalwart Benny Gilligan, also from Athlone, capably stepped into the side last weekend, after the hugely impressive Eoghan Grace (signed from Exeter during pre-season) was called into the Connacht set-up (Grace started in Connacht's Pro12 League defeat to Ulster last Saturday).
Some might suggest that Buccaneers had an almost identical start to last season, and then faded badly during the second half of the campaign, before ultimately missing out on promotion.
Such a scenario might not be totally avoidable this year either, as both Connacht and the Irish under-20 set-up hover ominously over talents such as Boland, Carty, Layden and Qualter.
But, as Hendre Marnitz pointed out after last weekend's win, the squad is a year more experienced, and is beginning to "fulfil its potential".
The South African - in his second season in charge at Dubarry Park - said: "Our troubles started last season when a few lads were called into the Connacht and Irish under-20s set-ups, but that's the way it is, and we were fully aware this situation might arise at the beginning of the season. It's vitally important we get as many points on the board when these lads are with us, and put ourselves in a very safe position in the league table. Over the next few weeks, I expect to possibly lose a handful of players, that's a third of the starting line-up, so it will become more difficult for us, if such a situation occurs.
"But it's a squad game these days, and everyone is going to have to contribute as time goes on. I'm very happy with the progress we're making this season, and going back to the lads that might get called-up by Connacht and Ireland, the club is delighted and proud to have players of that calibre in our set-up, and we hope they all progress to do well at interprovincial or international level. The local lads are really coming to the fore this season. Last year, the likes of Jack (Carty) and Callum (Boland) were just settling into league rugby, but that extra experience is standing to them this year. You need those locals fellas, they are very loyal to the club, and also very positive about the club. They've been of massive importance to us this season."
Marnitz also cited pre-season signing David Heffernan as a key performer for Buccs' at the moment, and lauded former King's Hospital star, 18-year-old Luke Satchwell, for his impressive debut performance last weekend.
Buccaneers next game is away to Belfast Harlequins on Saturday week, November 19, and Marnitz said he hopes Buccaneers can continue their recent good form by picking up further points.