The above scoreline may surprise many rugby pundits but Donaghadee really did deserve to win this thrilling encounter at Sandel Lodge Park, Coleraine. If the overnight loss of their player/coach Ian Martindale to illness caused some uneasiness amongst the large travelling support prior to kick off, the pre-match lunch in Coleraine’s clubhouse put all those Donaghadee non-combatants present fully at their ease, such were the comforts and so generous the hospitality. After it Donaghadee’s Chairman David Monson thanked the hosts profusely and rekindled some memories of the Dee’s semi-final win in the Junior Cup at Coleraine in the season 1992/3 when Ronnie Elliott kicked the winning penalty, wondering “Could the Dee pull off another shock result?”
As the players took the field the huge band of Dee supporters could tell immediately that Coach Jimmy McCoy had his team well prepared, following the late inclusion of Marcus Gibson on the wing and Andrew Findlater replacing Ian Martindale in the centre. Donaghadee chose to play into the wind and an early scrum gave them an early opportunity to exert their control up front. The front row of Chris Schofield, Gareth Gordon and captain Chris Good - backed up by Kyle Morrow and Davy Thompson in the second row - wheeled the Coleraine scrum to win the put in. At the second scrum the visiting supporters looked on in amazement as the Coleraine pack were driven backwards. This was a pattern the Dee forwards were to repeat throughout the match.
An early kick by out-half Paul Blewitt into the Coleraine in-goal area almost brought the opening score for the Dee, only for the Coleraine defence to win the race for the touch down. When Coleraine then won a penalty to take play into Donaghadee’s half some stout defence allowed Richard Millar to put a kick deep into the Coleraine half. The chasing Dee players tied up the Coleraine player’s attempts to break back and forced a line-out. Winning clean ball, the Donaghadee forwards and backs combined to take play right up to the Coleraine line. Donaghadee scrum-half Bobby Harper used his all his strength to carry several would-be tacklers over the line for the opening try beside the posts, and Millar added the points to give the Dee a deserved 7 – 0 lead.
Kyle Morrow snapped up the Coleraine kick-off to set up more good ball. Another Millar kick up the line was followed up by the Dee players with Harper, Good and Chris Hamilton in support. From the resulting lineout Coleraine were penalised for holding on at the break down. This gave Millar the chance to strike a 35 metre penalty into the wind and between the posts to increase the Dee lead to 10 – 0. By now the chat amongst their supporters was whether the team could keep up this performance and pull off a win.
By now the Donaghadee team was in full panoply of war. Full-back Billy Allen was dealing with all kicks and incursions so confidently that the backs and forwards in front could concentrate mainly on adding to their total. One slight hiccup was when some loose defence from the Dee allowed Coleraine, through their wing-forward Andrew Neely, to force the visitors to give away a penalty on their own twenty-two. Coleraine’s scrum half Paul Roxborough gratefully slotted over the penalty to reduce the deficit to 10 – 3. Rather than being set back by this, Donaghadee were stimulated. From the restart kick the Donaghadee forwards Schofield, Millar and Morrow secured good ball only for their backs to be held up just short of the line. Then, from a scrum, number eight Richard Martindale and out half Paul Blewitt combined to send hard-running centre Findlater through for a well-worked try at the posts with Millar adding the points that extended the Dee lead to 17 -3.
Coleraine now upped their game a bit winning a penalty on the Dee ten metre line, only for Roxborough’s attempt to fall short. They quickly followed this when their winger Colin Brown almost stole a try only for the Dee defence to deny him. Seconds later a clean line out take by Richard Martindale allowed a thankful Blewitt to clear the Dee lines. But Coleraine came back; their pressure forcing another kickable penalty only for Roxborough to push this one wide. Almost as if he wanted to restore proper order, a storming break by Good took play up to the halfway line. Sadly for the Dee man this initiative was to come to a halt as the referee brought an enthralling first half to a halt.
With the wind advantage now in their favour in the second half could the Dee continue to dominate the territory and possession?Within two minutes Coach McCoy’s words at the interval appeared to have worked as Donaghadee secured that all-important third try. After winger Rory Garnham was denied a try the Dee forwards created a perfect platform twenty metres out for wing forward Richard Millar to evade several tacklers and score a fine individual try beside the posts. When he then added the extra points it opened up Donaghadee’s lead to 24 – 3. By now Kyle Morrow owned the kick-offs, and with the Dee forwards giving magnificent support they were able to set up good ball time and again for their free running backs.
On one of these runs Donaghadee winger Marcus Gibson showed that he was at home at this level when he put in a strong run, only to be denied a try that he dearly sought and probably deserved. Clearly Donaghadee were not to be denied a fourth try. It came when their forwards laid siege to the Coleraine line. Wing-forward Chris Hamilton eventually smuggled the ball out and was able to burrow his way over for a well-deserved try which Millar converted into a 31 – 3 lead. An injury to Findlater obliged him to leave the field, being replaced with Patrick Quinn going into the back row and Millar moving to the centre. Cup rules permitting substitutes gave Coach Jimmy McCoy the chance to make a tactical change with Donaghadee’s hooker Gareth Gordon swapping with Paul Hamilton.
Stout defence from Coleraine kept out the dominant Dee forwards as the latter pressed for a further score. They were a bit unlucky not to add points at this time when Millar missed a further penalty attempt and Rory Garnham was unlucky not to score a try when a foot in touch denied him the try that many thought he had earned for his strong running all afternoon.
Blewitt was still doing his O’Gara thing, continuing to pin the Coleraine team back into their twenty-two with shrewdly placed kicks. Paul Hamilton, helped by his fresh legs and his understandable impatience while sitting on the bench, put in several strong runs. His efforts were rewarded when he scored his side’s fifth try after his team-mates once again turned over Coleraine ball. Millar failed to add the points, leaving the score now 36-3 to Donaghadee.
With time running out Coleraine made one last effort to get some compensatory points on the board, but the well organised Donaghadee defence denied them. Referee Jonny Erskine then blew his whistle to bring to an end a match that will be remembered by the faithful from Donaldson Park for years to come. The Dee team may have struggled away from home in the early part of the season but this result will give them encouragement in their remaining league games. As the club celebrates its 125 years existence this year, and with the team still very much involved in quarter finals of both the Junior Cup and Towns’ Cup, these are exciting times at Donaghadee. Coaches Ian Martindale and Jimmy McCoy deserve great credit for the work they have done in developing this team. In the forwards young players such as Paul Hamilton, Kyle Morrow, Chris Hamilton, Paddy Quinn, Stuart Hutchison, Richard Martindale and Richard Millar have developed their game alongside the more experienced players like Chris Schofield, Gareth Gordon, Chris Good and Davy Thompson. In the backs Rory Garnham, Andrew Findlater, Jamie Cardwell and Marcus Gibson are learning every week from Bobby Harper, Ian Martindale, Paul Blewitt, Gavin Gordon and Billy Allen. Other encouragement for the club is that Donaghadee’s Second XV has a large contingent of young players honing their games and building up their adult strength in the Junior League. In modern rugby football no one needs to have the importance of a large support squad full of ambitious young men striving to take their place on the first team.
Donaghadee team at Coleraine: 1. Chris Schofield, 2. Gareth Gordon, 3.Chris Good (Captain), 4. Kyle Morrow, 5. Davy Thompson, 6. Richard Millar, 7. Chris Hamilton, 8. Richard Martindale, 9. Bobby Harper, 10. Paul Blewitt, 11. Rory Garnham, 12. Andrew Findlater, 13. Gavin Gordon, 14. Marcus Gibson, 15. Billy Allen. Replacements: Paul Hamilton, Paddy Quinn.