Donaghadee 34-0 Belfast High School Former Pupils (3/10/2009)
The weather forecast last Saturday morning promised winds up to 70mph in the afternoon. When Donaghadee’s visitors Belfast High School FP chose to play with what was only a gentle breeze at Donaldson Park at 2.30pm a few eyebrows rose with the thought that conditions might prove to be much more helpful to Donaghadee in the second half. Whatever, Kevin Monson kicked off with everyone in his team realising that for 40 minutes at least Donaghadee’s best strategy was to run the ball at every opportunity. Player-coach Ian Martindale’s ankle injury and David Thompson’s all-over body sprain meant a slightly new look to the home side, but the few who were in the know were saying new winger Bobby Harper and scrum-half Jamie Cardwell in his first outing in the No. 9 shirt would be worth the watching.
Right from the start the effects of the wind threw both sides a bit, and it was its unpredictability that gave Donaghadee their first points. Monson gathered a ball in mid-field with little option but to hoist it for a chase. The High School full-back could see where it should have landed, and got there, only to see a gust take it away from his despairing hands. His knock-on gave the attacking side the scrum. They heeled quickly and certainly, Cardwell gave to Paul Blewitt and he transferred to the supporting Monson who presented right winger Harper with his first-ever touch of the ball in a Donaghadee shirt. Two seconds later his searing run to the High School line gave him his first try. The still-gusty wind played havoc with the difficult kick, but Donaghadee were well buoyed up by this excellent start. Their supporters were just as thrilled, one of them stating the obvious “This new boy looks like he might be OK.” Just how OK was to become clearer as the game proceded.
The relaxed and confident refereeing of the game was giving both teams every chance to play rugby. Donaghadee certainly took theirs, but High School were more cautious, putting their trust in a wind that seemed to favour them. As they restarted after the opening try it was obvious that High School’s priority was to play the game in Donaghadee’s territory. A running attack fizzled into a too-casual punt downfield that was easily fielded by Richard Millar near his own line. When he saw the empty prairie in front of him he just had to gallop across it. An encouraging feature of play of this season’s Donaghadee pack is their urgency to get to the best places to support such running. When Millar saw his charge was over he found Paul Hamilton right where he wanted him on his left shoulder. This aggressive hooker dismissed any thoughts of taking a long way round some blue-shirted defenders. Route one took him forty metres through the oncoming tacklers with hardly a check in his pace. The hungry Harper was in close support and took a clean pass with a hard 20 metres still to go. He scorched over the whitewash with enough room to spare to get round behind the posts to give Monson an easy chance to take Donaghadee to 12-0. This was very rewarding for the home side, and richly deserved.
With only the first quarter gone Donaghadee went further ahead. A highly speculative Donaghadee kick confused the swarming High School backs and it was the ubiquitous Millar who claimed possession and roared for the line. The ever-alert Monson was on hand when required with only an easy run to give himself the easiest of conversions to take Donaghadee to a comfortable 19-0.
A few minutes later Conor Smyth claimed a loose ball in quite an unpromising position inside his own half. Like bees in May the Dee forwards swarmed around the ball-carrier, took it along until they were halted and released it well. Paul Blewitt, who was looking sharp with a few wee darts of his own, saw Harper to his right. Realising in an instant that the Kiwi had not scored for a few minutes Blewitt gave him the loveliest of passes and waved him onwards. This gave a hat-trick to Harper and a 24-0 lead to Donaghadee as they went into the break.
Finding anything to criticise in Donaghadee’s play had been difficult up to the interval, and indeed there was much to savour in the second period too. However, it was crystal clear that the second half was going to be seriously affected by the wind, and it would be misleading to evade mention of Donaghadee’s slow realisation of just how hard the wind was now blowing. In fairly quick succession at least five clearing kicks from Donaghadee players did not stop bounding ever onwards until they hit the hedge behind High School’s dead-ball line.
Eventually the home side’s players worked this out and began again to let the ball do the work. The first to get the ball and a good field position at the same time was Millar. He saw the prolific Harper to his right, but his good vision had spotted a covering defence heading for him, so, with the merest hint of a dummy, he kept going. To those on the touchline the next bit was easy – slip the ball to someone else to change the direction of attack. Richard, who was having a magnificently confident game, thought different and went on himself – and got caught by the determined High School defence who were grateful to clear their lines.
In spite of the points deficit, and to their great credit, High School were able to mount a few attacks of their own. This forced Donaghadee to work hard to retain their clean sheet, and some fine tackling resulted. All the Dee players played their part, but for this observer the destroyer in chief was undoubtedly left-wing Gavin Gordon. Probably his havoc was the result of his splendid years in the higher levels of that 'other' rugby code, combined with his growing frustration that all of Donaghadee’s attacks were going right and that his right wing team-mate was having a day out.
In spite of the 24-0 deficit, High School were not conceding the game. So resolute was Donaghadee’s tackling that they could only come close, but time after time they were denied by solid defence. The highlight of this intense period of High School attack was undoubtedly the ferocious goal-line double tackle from flanker Craig McCoy and left-wing Gordon. This was a perfect demonstration of Donaghadee’s “They shall not pass” mentality.
But all footballers know that the the best form of defence is attack. The Dee men threw themselves back into mounting three great combined efforts in as many minutes, only to be frustrated by strong tackling or maybe a handling error. Eventually it was inevitable that further tries would come. Probably fed up with so little go-forward ball, Gavin Gordon came in off his left wing to change the angle of attack, and linked up with his other three-quarters. They combined quite expertly to send in Harper for his fourth try of a game he will not forget. At around this time a seemingly-innocuous tackle resulted in Kevin Monson being escorted off the field by club physio Niall Morraghan. Monson was taken to the Ulster Hospital, but the early diagnosis was a fractured collar-bone. Donaghadee Chairman David Monson must have had confused feelings as he realised that full-back Kevin, along with Donaghadee club captain Andrew also out injured, his club were now down two first-team backs, both sons were injured, and his company now has two incapacitated employees. Everyone wishes all three Monsons speedy recoveries.
Minutes after the restart the Donaghadee pack had clearly decided that the piano-shifters were not going to be outshone by the piano-players in this game. All eight of them worked with fearsome resolve to work their way over to demonstrate that they have class of their own. So energetic was the advance that everyone watching just knew that the pressure could only end in a try; the question was who would get it. The answer was that it was Paul Hamilton who got the deserved credit, but that all his pack colleagues shared it. With Monson hors de combat, Millar tried to end the game on a high with the conversion. On the field he didn’t succeed, but minutes later had the compensation of being awarded Man of the Month by Jodie Waterworth from Donaghadee’s official sponsors, Pier 36.
The Donaghadee team was: Kevin Monson, Bobby Harper, Andrew Findlater, Richard Millar, Gavin Gordon, Paul Blewitt, Jamie Cardwell; Chris Good, Paul Hamilton, Richard Nelson (c), Kyle Morrow, Andrew Dunn, Craig McCoy, Chris Hamilton and Conor Smyth.