Donaghadee came from a 24-10 halftime deficit to beat Ballmoney 30-27 in the Towns Cup second round in one of the most memorable cup games seen at Donaldson Park in recent years.
These two teams had met twice already this season in league encounters, and although Donaghadee had a home win and an away draw to show, the 2010 Town's Cup winners Ballymoney arrived at Donaldson Park buoyed on by a strong visiting support.
The visitors started strongly and took the lead after 4 minutes, after a series of phases deep in the Donaghadee half. A try was successfully converted.
Donaghadee responded well to the early set back and after the restart dominated play in the Ballymoney half. In the 8th minute the ball was fed to Dee prop forward Chris Schofield whose burst of pace and incredible strength was too much for the ‘Money’ defence who could only claw onto Schofield as he touched down under the posts. Santos converted to level the scores.
The comeback from Donaghadee was short-lived and Ballymoney continued to dominate open play, their useful backline testing the Dee defence at every opportunity. Indeed it was only thanks to an excellent covering chase from Dee full Billy Allen in the 10th minute that the visitors did not score their second try of the game after capitalising on a Dee error in the centre of the pitch.
Cleland and Santos exchanged penalties midway through the first half to leave the scores finely balanced at 10-10.
Donaghadee continued to threaten but were unable to put any sustained pressure on the Ballymoney defence. In the 20th minute Rory Garnham collected an excellent Paul Blewitt garryowen and attacked the visitor’s line. He was quickly supported by Richard Martindale who drove forward whilst the Dee backline prepared to threaten. Alastair Lockhart released the ball to his backs with the ball being quickly transferred to Santos on the wing. The quick exchanges between Bobby Harpur and Nigel Barker had created a little space for Santos to run into and he did just that before being bundled into touch just short of the line.
Ballymoney were more clinical with their opportunities and added two converted tries in the final ten minutes of the first half to leave Donaghadee trailing 24-10 at half time; Ballymoney with some enterprising, free-following rugby.
Donaghadee’s undefeated home record was looking under pressure at this stage and as the green and red men took to the huddle at half-time the Donaghdee faithful’s only comfort was the fact that the Dee were playing ‘down the hill’ in the second half.
Donaghadee’s response to a disappointing first half performance was immediate and clinical. The tenacious Dee scrum half Alastair Lockhart took on the Ballymoney defence, attacking the blind side from a set piece in the first minute putting the Dee pack in a strong attacking position. After a series of strong carries from Gareth Gordon and Kenny McCombe, Donaghadee second row David Thompson used his strength to power over the line from close range. Santos converted to reduce the Dee deficit to seven points.
Donaghadee's set pieces were very strong in the second period, which created a platform for relentless pressure from Donaghdee in the first quarter of the second half, with only strong Ballymoney defence preventing Donaghadee from adding to their points tally.
Ballymoney tried to relieve pressure by kicking into space but these efforts were superbly fielded by Allen, Barker and Schofield, Allen in particular rising in a crowd of players to take a high ball in the 17th minute in text book style.
With clear scoring opportunities not coming freely, Donaghadee opted to kick a penalty on the 60th minute and Santos obliged leaving only four points separating the teams going into the final quarter.
As the clubhouse clock seemed to working against a Donaghadee comeback, the Ballymoney defence was beaten on the 66th minute with a penalty try being awarded to Donaghadee. The move started from a five metre scrum which Donaghadee back row Richard Millar looked to have controlled and touched down over the line. Referee David Coey however decided that Ballymoney had infringed and awarded the penalty try. Santos converted to give Donaghadee a 27-24 lead.
Santos extended Donaghadee’s lead to six points with a well taken penalty before Ballymoney’s Cleland replied with a penalty, both in the final five minutes of the game.
With the game in injury time and play dominated in the Dee half Ballymoney were awarded a penalty and an opportunity to level the scores. To the relief of the home support, Cleland pulled his effort wide of the upright to end a pulsating game of rugby and secure Donaghadee’s place in the quarter final draw.
Donaghadee’s second half performance was possibly the best executed forty minutes of rugby football seen at Donaldson Park this season. Why? Chasing a 14 point deficit against any opposition is a tough ask but to do it against a team that was on the ascendency like Ballymoney were in the first period takes the type of character that has been synonymous with Donaghadee’s season. Donaghadee executed this comeback scoring two second half tries whilst starving Ballymoney of any clear scoring opportunities in the second period.
Coaches Ian Martindale and John Blewitt were delighted after the final whistle and recognised the fantastic effort and desire shown by their players in the second period.
On Monday of this week Donaghadee were drawn away to Clogher Valley in the QF stages of the Powerade Towns Cup. A tough tie but at this stage of the prestigious competition there are no easy ones and Donaghadee’s dream of a cup double now travels to County Tyrone.
Scoops Man of the Match
Donaghadee’s front row was exceptionally strong and their dominance at set pieces were an important feature of the game, as was the dominance shown by Martindale and Aualiitia in line out play. Outstanding performer on the day goes this week to Richard Martindale.
Donaghadee 1st XV vs Ballymoney
Billy Allen, Ricardo Santos, Bobby Harpur (c), Nigel Barker, Rory Garnham, Paul Blewitt, Alastair Lockhart; Chris Schofield, Gareth Gordon, Chris Good, Kalave Aualiitia, David Thompson, Richard Martindale, Kenny McCombe, Richard Miller. Subs: Keith McIlwaine & Kyle Morrow