Last Saturday at Roughfort, Newtownabbey, belied the image those who live on Belfast Lough’s southern shore have of the weather on the County Antrim side. There was hardly any wind and it was pleasantly mild. These good conditions, the early-season form of both teams and the perfect Prunty pitch combined to promise an entertaining game of rugby football.
With the wind in their favour, Academy had two early penalty-kick successes and an excellent try by their flying left wing to give them an early lead of 13-0. However, the game had begun with, and continued with, little adventure in the play. Academy’s obvious comfort with this type of game was bringing them the points reward that they have become used to this season. The impression that was forming in the minds of the large Donaghadee supporting contingent was that if the home side were allowed to continue with the same game plan, it did not augur well for the visitors. Was this game going to entertain the home side only? In actuality almost all of the heart-lifting entertainment was largely over at this early juncture. For long periods through the first half the game degenerated into a series of messy scrums, off-sides, poor decision-making, too many penalties and even a yellow card.
This is not to say the game was devoid of interest; it was that too much effort and energy was being lost in a search for what might be called sneaky advantages, than in demonstrating individual and team skills and strategies. Both sides would have been somewhat frustrated by the scrappy game, but of course the main purpose in sports is to win games and gain valuable league points, so once the uninspired tenor of the game was set, as it can be in many contact sports, it almost inevitably was condemned to continue.
The Donaghadee players gradually realised that it was going to be a long hard slog to get back on terms, and confined their enterprise to a very few adventurous forays, aiming for gradual improvement of field position, and if necessary, settling for a penalty goal when the opportunity arose. In this regard Richard Millar was a great help to the cause. Starved of good running ball by the nature of the game, he came up trumps when Donaghadee eventually got the penalty opportunities they knew must come. Richard had taken over the kicking duties because regular place-kicker Kevin Monson was on the touchline rather than at full-back for the Dee, patched up after breaking his collar-bone last week, and with a diagnosis that he would probably be fit again by Christmas. The sea-siders wish him well. Millar proved to be a cool-headed substitute kicker, sticking two long-range testers sweetly between the Academy posts. A scoreline of 13-6 for Academy was easier to live with than the 13-0 it had been for a while.
A couple of stirring runs by Donaghadee’s two wingers Bobby Harper and Rory Garnham lifted the spirits, and in a sort-of reverse way so did the yellow-carding of an Academy player for repeated killing of the ball. When the players eventually got the short rest they needed at the half-time whistle it was clear that this game was now looking a long way from over.
The first real highlight of the new half was more appreciated by the home crowd than the visitors. An interminable ruck sucked in too many Donaghadee defenders, and when Academy were able to release the ball and run to their right it was obvious that if every back held the ball and passed it quickly they must score far out because of a clear one-man overlap. The tactic worked beautifully for the home backs and the score was now a daunting 18-6 against Donaghadee.
At this stage the referee was becoming impatient both with Academy’s negative tactics to prevent clean possession, and with their reactions to his initial decisions, and awarded a series of penalties to Donaghadee. Millar converted one to take the score to 18-9, but when they got another one, a mere ten metres in front of goal, Donaghadee chose to reject a simple shot at goal in favour of attempting to score a seven-pointer. Donaghadee however failed to score, and were now forced to continue chasing the game.
To their great credit, the Donaghadee players did not let this failure to score get them down. Their forwards still worked well with Craig McCoy, Chris Hamilton, Chris Good and Andrew Dunn looking prominent. As in the first half, the backs did not get many opportunities to show their paces, but their increasing possession eventually gave newcomer Rory Garnham the ball in a bit of space on his left wing.
The defensive cover was racing to close off his line of attack to the corner flag, and it seemed impossible that his serious pace would not be enough to get him to his red and green clad target. It wasn’t. More was needed. Assessing the amount of cover defence in an instant, Garnham changed mode from 'searing pace through open meadow' to “If you want me you have to stop me.” Garnham is not yet a big man, but his crash through the despairing tackles and his intelligent stretch to the line would have done credit to an international winger. Unfortunately Millar could not manage the difficult conversion kick across the wind, but Donaghadee were now within four points at 18-14, and the game was now at last anyone’s.
It was Academy who were first to get within kicking range however, and when another penalty was awarded they had no hesitation in converting it. The referee’s whistle for full-time followed almost immediately, and Donaghadee had narrowly lost a tough encounter 21-14.
Better news is that several of our injured players, and others, will be available, and mostly soon. Donaghadee Rugby Club has an unusually large squad of potential first-team players this season, and on Saturday past they fronted up and tussled well with the league leaders. Academy maybe did deserve to win this largely-uninspiring encounter, but with all due respect to them, Donaghadee could have won this encounter, and came close to doing so without playing to the level that they have in previous matches this season.
Make no mistake, Donaghadee Rugby Club is not out of contention in their league, and nor has Academy or anyone else got it sewn up. Anyone interested in seeing exciting rugby football could do worse than visit Donaldson Park for the home games (especially the much-awaited Junior Cup game against Bangor on 7 November), and maybe they might even make the journey for the away games – all of which are likely to be more worth the watching than last Saturday’s disappointing show.
The Donaghadee team was: Adam Lowry, Bobby Harper, Andrew Findlater, Richard Millar, Rory Garnham, Paul Blewitt, Jamie Cardwell; Chris Good, Paul Hamilton, Richard Nelson(c), Kyle Morrow, Andrew Dunn, Craig McCoy, Chris Hamilton & Conor Smyth.
Saturday 17th October: Donaghadee Rugby Club 1st XV are at gome to UUC. The 2nd XV travel to Coleraine to play their 3rds, and Donaghadee 3rds are at home to Malone 5ths. All games kick o
Donaghadee’s Ist XV are at home to UUC, the Seconds are at Coleraine to play the town club’s Thirds and Donaghadee Thirds are at home to malone Fifths. All games kick off at 2.30pm.