Donaghadee hosted Clogher Valley on Saturday looking to defend their unbeaten home record against a team, that had yet to be beaten in league action this year and is competing for the league title.
The visitors took no time to settle and implemented their very simple game plan of keeping the ball alive and moving at every opportunity whether it be at close range through their powerful pack, or through a couple of dangerous runners in the back-line. Indeed it was a combination of both these assets that lead to the first try of the afternoon after only 3 minutes played. The Valley pack outmuscling Donaghadee and creating space for their fullback Ali Breen to run in unopposed for a converted try.
The start was so easy for Valley that one wondered how the Dee would or could possibly compete but they did not disappoint. Richard Millar, continuing his spell partnering Bobby Harpur in centre, started brightly and had the beating of his opposite man on a number of occasions.
On the 14th minute Dee had the first opportunity to get points on the board, but Ricardo Santos pulled this difficult kick narrowly wide.
Midway through the first half after a strong Donaghadee period they lost influential skipper Bobby Harpur through an Achilles injury. With backline options limited a reshuffle of the pack created an opportunity for Keith McIlwaine to slot into inside centre – not for the first time this season.
Clogher Valley enjoyed better possession in the second quarter of the game and with the elements at their back they pressed hard to extend their advantage. Donaghadee’s defence however was back to its very best and was disciplined and committed in their efforts.
It was not until the final phase of play in the first half that Clogher Valley extended their lead courtesy of a well taken penalty.
Half-time: Donaghadee 0 Clogher Valley 10
Those who are regulars at Donaldson Park will know that a Donaghadee team trailing at half time and playing ‘down the hill’ in the second half can be as dangerous as a wounded animal. It was no surprise therefore that Donaghadee showed terrific intent from the restart and scored their first points of the game in the 41st minute with an excellent penalty attempt from Santos from the ten metre line.
The visitors however simply did not allow the Donaghadee momentum to build and their talismanic scrum-half Bates pulled the strings, demanding a response from the league chasers. Valley got it in the 10th minute from a close range try from their prop forward, after a series of phases attacking Donaghadee’s line. The conversion was missed to give Valley a 15-3 lead with 30 minutes to play.
Whenever teams have a 12 point lead a game can very often drift by for the chasing team, almost appearing like the clock in ground is working against any comeback – that is unless you have a group of players that will simply not accept mediocrity. From the second Valley try there appeared to be an urgency from Donaghadee that led to them dominating set pieces, winning 50/50 balls, making first time tackles and kicking productively deep into the Valley half. This was a team effort led by Chris Hamilton, making a return to Donaldson Park after a six month injury absence, and showing he had lost none of the commitment that has made him such a popular player in the last few years. Kenny McCombe showing his versatility in the back row by moving to number 8 was enjoying one of his best performances in a red and green shirt, powering his pack forward at every opportunity.
On the 68th minute Hamilton took a quick penalty and showed excellent pace to break away from his tacklers and make ground down the left flank. As he approached a couple of covering Valley tacklers he had the awareness to deliver a perfectly timed pass to the supporting Santos who touched down for Donaghadee’s first try of the game. Santos not for the first time this season using his fine rugby brain to capitalise on the initial break. Santos converted to reduce the deficit to five points.
Although there was only 12 minutes of play remaining it seemed inevitable that Donaghadee would go on to score another try such was their dominance at this point – they did not disappoint. After great work in the loose from Hamilton and McIlwaine there was a quick transfer of ball to Nigel Barker who spotted a gap in the Valley line and glided through to rapturous applause from the Dee crowd. Santos scored to put Donaghadee two points ahead with five minutes of play remaining.
Donaghadee did not lose their intensity and continued to threaten from the restart and enjoyed the majority of possession in the closing stages of the game. However in the last phase of play Valley secured possession deep in the Dee half and fed the ball wide and begun a counter attack. The Valley fullback Breen broke the line early and ran unopposed as the red and green shirts could only watch in dismay as he secured a vital away win for the Tyrone outfit. The conversion to make the scores 17-22 was to be the final phase of play.
A defeat in these circumstances is tough to take both for a supporter and more so as a player, however that’s what sport is all about, that why we come and watch, that why players train and play hard and that’s why from midweek both supporters and players start to get the buzz and anticipation about the weekend's fixtures. Donaghadee have now secured a top four finish in the league that many predicted they were favourites to get relegated from – Donaghadee left the pitch on Saturday gutted that they ran the only unbeaten team in Junior Rugby close to defeat; however the Junior Cup winners now have a fantastic opportunity to channel all their energy towards a return fixture against Valley in the Towns Cup QF this weekend.
Scoops Man of the Match: Chris Hamilton
Fixtures: Clogher Valley vs. Donaghadee (Towns Cup Quarter Final) Away. 2.30pm Kick Off
Team: Donaghadee 1st XV vs. Clogher Valley Billy Allen, Ricardo Santos, Bobby Harpur (c), Richard Millar, Andrew Faulkner, Nigel Barker, Alastair Lockhart; Chris Schofield, Gareth Gordon, Ryan Willis, Kalave Aualiitia, Richard Martindale, Kenny McCombe, Chris Hamilton, Keith McIlwaine. Subs: Kyle Morrow