Anyone stuck for some entertainment last week could have done worse than stop for a while at Donaldson Park. There they could have enjoyed two games of rugby football between the town’s First and Second XVs and old friends Letterkenny.
DONAGHADEE 2nd XV 0 - 14 LETTERKENNY 2nd XV
In both senses the day kicked off when Letterkenny’s Seconds played what was a very new-looking Donaghadee Seconds. From the kick-off Letterkenny looked to be the fitter side, probably with a lot of thanks to their pre-season conditioning work. This fairly quickly resulted in their menacing presence not too far from the Donaghadee goal-line. However, the entire Dee team threw everything into securing this line and eventually a welcome penalty kick allowed some relief.
This managed to take the home side into the open space of the visitors’ half, where play continued with Donaghadee striving to get a score, but Letterkenny just as keenly doing everything they could to prevent one.
The more discerning of the spectators were happy to see Donaghadee pressing, but a little worried that they were unable to close out their attacks in a tangible fashion. Although they continued with some good work that belied the relative unfamiliarity among the newer players, Donaghadee were unable to get across the visitors’ line thanks to some hard Letterkenny defence.
In the second half, as often happens, it was the team who had defended so successfully that took heart first, and Letterkenny scored once, to give them some encouragement, and fairly quickly, a second time to give them a total of 14-0. Donaghadee never gave up, but on the day they eventually had to concede that the men from County Donegal were the better side on the day.
Donaghadee team: Andrew Mitchell, George Haggan, Chris McGivern, Adam Rodgers, Anthony Bunting, Andrew Findlater, Mark Cooper; Adam Torrens, Philip McCaughey, Rick Gullen, Conrad Jankowski, Mark Mitchell, Gavin Prue, Gareth Deering, and Marcus Nelson.
DONAGHADEE 1st XV 34-26 LETTERKENNY 1st XV
A few minutes after the Seconds’ game finished, Donaghadee Firsts kicked off their game of what promises to be a great 125th Anniversary season. Playing with the elements they were soon putting their visitors under pressure, but with little tangible to show for it for a while. This was largely because, like the earlier game, it was the first competitive outing for this group of fifteen talents. It did not take too long before some excellent individual skill was supported by a fine surge of team co-ordination and power.
When a line-out throw was slightly overdone, flanker Chris Hamilton claimed it in a flash and was off. His now well-known speed took him on a storming run for the Letterkenny line. Desperation defence by the visitors just managed to smother his run. At what was a crucial scrum, Gareth Gordon’s lightning strike and the strength of his seven colleagues took the Dee pack almost to the goal-line where Letterkenny eventually stopped them.
At this point many spectators were amazed to see how skilfully and accurately the Donaghadee Number 8 Ian Martindale turned this hold-up into a stirring score. Their surprise was because the club’s player-coach for the last three seasons has been known to all as a powerful centre, but he showed that there is little he cannot do at the back of a scrum. He simply waited for the optimum moment, reached down for a quick pick-up and fed to his scrum-half Alistair Lockhart. This young man needed no suggestions as he darted the yard or two he needed to open the scoring. Five-nil to Donaghadee, but would it be significant?
A few minutes it appeared that it was as Donaghadee’s pack won good quick ball and released their backs. Some good inter-passing made the ground and also just enough room for left-winger Chris Woods to get in at the left corner for try No.2. Outside-half Paul Blewitt struck his conversion kick so sweetly that all present knew it was over as soon as it left his foot, 12-0.
Just as Donaghadee mounted their next attack and all their supporters were looking forward to another home try, a minor disaster struck. Full-back Billy Allen’s usually reliable hands let him down and the ball was spilled. In itself, not necessarily awful, but when all his team-mates were surging forward with him, and with the capricious ball bouncing cleanly popping into the hands of the Letterkenny outside-centre, clearly the fastest man on the park, it was not good. Leaving a few despairing would-be tacklers for dead, he scampered under the Dee posts and suddenly the score was a much closer 12-7.
Both teams, although still working hard to gain any advantage they could, now seemed to be unable to create a demonstrable superiority. Letterkenny’s pack, just like their Second XV earlier, looked very fit, with their back row looking dangerous more than once. However, apart from the obvious intercept try, their backline was well contained for what was left of the first half.
As the players lined up for the new half it appeared that the referee Alan Ward could not continue, having pulled a ham-string.He HHH The game was fortunate and the players grateful in that the Branch referee of the first of the day’s two games, Jim Logan, had been touch-judging and agreed to blow the whistle for the second half.
The first real excitement of the new half came quite early. At a Donaghadee line-out on half-way Ian Martindale, jumping at the No. Two position, took a sweet throw from Gareth Gordon and the Donaghadee eight formed a solid ruck. As Letterkenny threw everything into despairing defence, Donaghadee’s alert Lockhart spotted their right winger moving in-field. The scrum half reached into the ruck, snatched the ball and was off like a hare – right up his left-hand touch-line for a surprise score.
The 17-7 scoreline seemed to energise the Donaghadee backs and they went through a number of well co-ordinated moves that displayed an increased confidence, but without any further scoring. Until the dangerous Letterkenny centre next got his hands on the ball, that is. A loose ball once again fell to him, and off he rocketed for the second time, and for his second score out of the blue – and a 17-14 scoreline to shake up both sets of players. When Letterkenny soon mounted their best attack of the day, and it coincided with what was probably Donaghadee’s least co-ordinated team defence of the day what had looked a comfortable Dee lead now became Donaghadee 17 – Letterkenny 19.
Many Donaghadee supporters present had been exchanging opinions about the season’s newish team, and maybe even suggesting that one or two changes might be necessary between what they were watching and the game seven days away against Enniskillen in the Qualifying League. To allow a fairly comfortable lead against a team from a lower league to disappear and then be reversed was not inspiring.
Out on the field the Donaghadee forwards out on their right raised their game and won another quick ball and launched their backs. The chosen tactic this time was two huge long passes that missed the more obvious target men, but found Allen up in support at pace. With Woods to his left and two men to beat the full-back offered to pass – but held on to the ball and scored while the remaining defenders were still charging for the empty-handed Woods. The spectators were pleased that the scoreline now read 22-19, but took extra comfort from the fact that the advantage was now Donaghadee’s.
The Donaghadee players were clearly buoyed up by the fight-back and what they must have recognised as a much better application to the skills of the game. It was not long before they produced some entertaining attacking that reminded many of their best work last season. Their extra effort soon resulted in a score that devastated their visitors. Many players inter-passed to left and right, but the killer blow saw a fine charge by Hamilton that cleared the way for the rampaging Martindale to be able to go over virtually unopposed and gave Donaghadee a more gratifying 29-19 lead, and with only a few minutes left.
Perhaps some Donaghadee thoughts were half way to the changing room, but another communal lapse of concentration saw a careless penalty being conceded to Letterkenny. A sloppy defence then allowed the visitors’ impressive No. 6 to score at the foot of the posts, an easy conversion and a now-nervous lead for Donaghadee of only 29-26. It seemed that the entire Donaghadee team was determined that that were not yet finished. Collectively they appeared to reprise the team try of a few minutes earlier where the forwards won impressive ball at a ruck, released to the scrum-half and the backs passed the ball slickly to their left for Allen to run in and touch down to make the final scoreline 34-26.
Donaghadee had been taking advantage of the friendly nature of the fixture to introduce some of their substitute players into a game whose level some had never encountered before. Those spotted were Mark Cooper, Chris McGivern, Phil McCaughey and Gareth Deering, with apologies to any player whose name is missing, but in future weeks most if not all will get a proper chance to show their talents.
This game must have served as great encouragement for a young and clearly hard-working Letterkenny team. They can go into their Qualifying League 3 games with some confidence in their abilities. Donaghadee too can take a lot of plusses away from their first outing, although one suspects that Jimmie McCoy and Andy Monson will have some comments during the week about the aspects of last Saturday’s play that cannot, and dare one say, will not, be seen this coming Saturday against Enniskillen.
Donaghadee team: Billy Allen, Tommy Slane, Bobby Harper, Dougie Gordon, ChrisWoods, Paul Blewitt, Alistair Lockhart, Jamie Wilson, Gareth Gordon, Chris Good(c), , Kyle Morrow, Phil Collins, Craig McCoy, Chris Hamilton and Ian Martindale.
The mini rugby season gets under way at Donaldson Park this Sunday, 5th September 2010. Our teams are kindly supported by 'John Minnis Estate Agents' and children born in the years 1999 to 2003 inclusive are all very welcome. The focus is on fun and all new players will be especially welcome. A busy fixture list has been agreed for this season so mums and dads, grannies and grandads we hope to see you and the players all set to go for another enjoyable year.