According to the Ulster Branch, until last Saturday CIYMS had only lost one game out of eleven in Qualifying League 2 to date this season, and had scored over 400 points, but the traveling Donaghadee fans well knew that their 1st XV’s form since before Christmas was greatly improved since their poor early season, and that they were in with more than a shout.
CI have always been a most amiable club to visit, and this year’s pre-game lunch was generous, enjoyable and much-appreciated by the large gathering. As the teams lined up, all thirty players looked more than ready for action. The conditions were perfect for running rugby as Paul Blewitt kicked off into the bright sun.
The first half hour was most entertaining, but amazingly scoreless. This might have given Donaghadee some concern but for the fact that the entire period was played in the CI half of the field. It might best be summed up as forward domination from the front five of Chris Good, Gareth Gordon, Chris Schofield, Kyle Morrow and Davy Thompson, combined with supreme line-out possession by Richard Martindale and Richard Millar. All of this possession was exploited relentlessly by Blewitt’s excellent tactical kicking and some skirmishing runs by the Dee three-quarters.
Although CI were never able to mount anything like a threat during this period, their supporters were much encouraged by their impressive defence. CI tackled hard, and Donaghadee ran hard, so it was no real surprise when the contest now became more tense. It is no criticism of the referee to say that he missed the sudden conflagration just as he stopped a hard-fought ruck; it simply happened as he turned to check behind him. As he spun round he dealt with the situation impeccably without any serious penalty and this immediately calmed things down. Indeed the remainder of the game was tough and hard, but with all tempers totally under control.
On the half-hour the ubiquitous Chris Hamilton was first to react when what looked like an easy CI line-out ball on half-way went loose. In a flash he was on it and was away towards the CI line with fellow-flanker Richard Millar right where he should be - on his shoulder. Millar was able to penetrate into CI’s red zone until, with the goal-line in his sights, he showed intelligent maturity in giving the ball perfectly to the stalwart Davy Thompson. Nobody stops DT in these circumstances and seconds later Millar was converting the try to open the score – CIYMS 0 - Donaghadee 7.
Anxious now to put more points on the board to demonstrate their superiority, some of the Donaghadee players had become just a tad impatient. However, they got what they needed when CI were penalised for being similarly impatient, after some sterling work by Chris Good. Millar duly punished this with a kick that put the Dee 10-0 up. This slightly bigger margin brought out the best in the Dee men. Kyle Morrow is not a flamboyant player, but he was tireless in tidying up ragged play and helping his forwards recycle the ball time after time.
With half-time looming, Donaghadee made a concerted attack, hoping to go into the interval with an even bigger lead. All their players contributed, but it was Bobby Harpur who made the crucial break. Donaghadee’s forwards quickly re-cycled the ball through Jonny Phillips and Blewitt, with the latter giving Hamilton the opportunity to go under CI’s posts for a very rewarding try. Amazingly, Millar’s conversion slid past the upright leaving Donaghadee’s team total 15-0.
Clearly, facing such a scoreline concentrated the minds of the CI players. From the restart they made their first serious incursion into Donaghadee territory, and with an almost palpable determination. But before they could gain anything material, Harpur struck at their heart again with two bursts towards their line. The pressure he and his supporting forwards exerted forced another penalty and Millar made certain to ratchet up the margin to 18-0.
In defence, because of the solid early tackling in midfield of Gavin Gordon, Paul Blewitt and Bobby Harpur, the Donaghadee defence had not had much difficulty in the first period, but they now had to pay attention to a CI backline that in glimpses showed that they knew how to run, and were anxious to do just that. No one likes to be 18-0 adrift.
If the Dee backs were full of running in the first half, they now were obliged to look to their defending skills and commitment. They were not found wanting. In the face of a revitalised CI backline that was looking full of running, every one of the Donaghadee backs worked hard and well as a combined unit, but with each one of them showing his own personal determination to hold the line. The jewel in this crown must be the tackle at the end of CI’s best running attack of the day. Quick possession got the ball to the three-quarters with an overlap that was apparent to all spectators from the half-way line. All across the field from the breakdown on CI’s right to the left wing Donaghadee had them covered man for man – but all present could see that CI crucially had one man more.
What followed was an object lesson in attack and defence that could well have been filmed for a training video. Each CI man took just the right amount out of the ball, each Donaghadee defender forced the pass and eventually the CI winger Mark Spottiswood headed for what looked like a text-book score. But some of the spectators had spotted Donaghadee’s left winger Rory Garnham start his sprint from at least sixty metres away – long before the attack got anywhere near the Dee line. Oblivious of his peril, Spottiswood must have been certain he was in for a great try, but three metres out Garnham hit him with everything. He knew that a tackle at the ankles would not suffice here and so hit his man in his right mid-riff putting him yards into touch. Try saved, score still 18-0 to Donaghadee.
When the Dee got their lines cleared their forwards got the ball out to Blewitt to look for territory. Andrew Findlater made a great chase after Blewitt’s huge kick out, showing his intelligence as he altered his pace just a touch to arrive at the CI catcher as he gathered the ball to dump him unceremoniously. Comments around this time seemed to agree that all the Donaghadee players were performing out of their skins, but that if there was a criticism it would be that they were perhaps thinking more as individuals than as a fifteen-man team.
Almost as if the quiet touchline thoughts had reached the players, the latter now produced an attack of sweet team unity. After a superb line-out steal by Richard Martindale, and then some probing and darting play by a procession of players, this climaxed in a stirring score for Donaghadee in the CI right corner. It was rightly claimed by Harpur, but it might have any one of about six or more. Millar put some icing on this cake with a fine kick from the touchline to take what was to be Donaghadee’s final total to 25.
CI now knew they were well beaten, but their pride was never going to allow them to gain no points. They threw everything at Donaghadee in the closing minutes bringing out some fine tackles from Dee full-back Billy Allen who earlier had been able to have a peaceful afternoon. His coup de grace came very near the end when he showed that destructive tackles were not just the province of young players. His bulldozing into touch of a rampant CI runner kept the visitors’ line still uncrossed with 79 minutes played. But rugby football games last 80 minutes. Some last ditch attacking by CI produced a penalty that they took quickly and, after a switch from a wide run to a mid-field one, they went under Donaghadee’s crossbar. Donaghadee would have liked to finish 25-0, but no one could argue that CI did not deserve some reward for their efforts.
The Donaghadee team at CIYMS was: Billy Allen, Andrew Findlater, Gavin Gordon, Bobby Harpur, Rory Garnham, Paul Blewitt, Jonny Phillips; Chris Schofield, Gareth Gordon, Chris Good (C), Kyle Morrow, Davy Thompson, Richard Millar, Chris Hamilton, Richard Martindale.
Qualifying 2 leaders Academy will have been delighted with this result from Belmont. Before Saturday’s match they remained undefeated in the league with 11 wins from 11 matches; their closest rivals CIYMS and Ballyclare have now lost two matches each with the Dee having lost three. The good news for Donaghadee Rugby Club is that CIYMS, Academy and Ballyclare all have to travel to Donaldson Park to play the Dee, with both Ballyclare and CIYMS still to play Academy in their return fixtures. There may yet be a few ‘twists’ and ‘turns’ before the league campaign is completed.
The focus for Donaghadee Rugby Club now switches to the Towns Cup - next Saturday (20th February) they entertain Qualifying One side Enniskillen at Donaldson Park in the quarter finals. A large crowd is expected for this game.
On Saturday 27th February Donaghadee 1sy XV will travel to Fivemiletown to play Qualifying One side Clogher Valley in the Quarter finals of the Junior Cup.
The form shown by the rugby club this season has generated considerable interest in the town of Donaghadee, as the club push for honours in the club’s 125th anniversary year. The club's coaches - Ian Martindale and Jimmie McCoy - and the players are determined to achieve these, but they need the support of all those who love Donaghadee rugby. This probably means you.