A few of the Donaghadee rugby supporters travelling to Lisburn last Saturday may have thought that on such a perfect rugby day the odds would be on a win for the seasiders – especially with Lisburn being in mid-table and Donaghadee in second place in Ulster’s Qualifying League Two.
At the excellent lunch before the game the Lisburn Club Council congratulated Donaghadee upon their 125 years in rugby football and presented Club President Bill Boomer with a new, but historic, aerial photograph of Ireland’s new ground at Lansdowne Road.
For the first fifteen minutes of the game all the play was in the Lisburn half. However, the home side’s line was not really threatened, although newcomer to the team, Colin Smyth, did have an impressive run through the middle of the defence without the ultimate success that for a moment had looked likely. Because of their desperation defence, Lisburn were penalised twice just on half-way. Into a breeze stiffer than it looked, both kicks fell just short. The referee was still not happy and gave a third penalty, but this time ten or fifteen metres closer, and Richard Millar sent it high and handsome over the Lisburn crossbar for first blood to Donaghadee. A few minutes later some Lisburn resolve took them into Donaghadee’s half for the first time, and to the consternation of the Dee players, an equalizing penalty kick. This led to some good work by the Lisburn pack and serious pressure on the Donaghadee defence. A brief lack of discipline gave Lisburn three more kicks at goal towards the end of the first half. The first just missed, the second bounced out high off the crossbar and the third behaved itself well enough to go over for a 6-3 Lisburn lead and some food for thought for Donaghadee as they entered the interval.
Donaghadee are not very well used to being behind this season, but with the wind now on their backs they must have been fairly optimistic as they started the new half. However it was actually Lisburn who looked the more determined as the new half began. Their outside-half Crothers and full-back Finlay made some penetrating runs, but Donaghadee’s defence was able to snuff out any threat they posed. But spectators could sense that the Dee men were growing stronger by the minute, and Lisburn’s defence was under serious pressure. Donaghadee captain Chris Good asked for even greater effort by his forwards – and got it. The set pieces of scrum and line-out had been secure all day, but now came the rolling maul. With the power of Donaghadee’s front five, the wise head of Davy Thompson visible in the driving seat and the mobile back row of Stuart Hutchinson and the two Hamiltons, Chris and Paul, the Donaghadee eight chose to take Lisburn’s pack for a walk upfield a few times. With Lisburn’s earlier organisation now put under serious pressure from the infantry, it was time for General Good to unleash his cavalry. Out on the left flank Billy Allen and Rory Garnham came close, but when they were stopped the referee took play back to mid-field for an offside-penalty kick for Donaghadee, and Millar and his team-mates settled for a goal that brought the teams level at 6-6. This was not to last long. A rush of blood to the head led to a penalty for Lisburn that they gratefully converted to regain the lead.
It is a measure of the well-founded confidence this Donaghadee team has that although now on the wrong side of the scoreline they continued to play with style and determination. A long restart kick from Monson worked well for Donaghadee and his nicely weighted chip to the left corner sat up nicely for the chasing Dee runners.
Perhaps Garnham had been geed up by his earlier near-miss, but whatever it was, Donaghadee’s flying left-winger, without ever taking his eye off the skittering ball, judged his lightning run to perfection to give his team the stirring try they had been seeking – and a score of 11-9. Although the conversion was missed, the now-rampant Donaghadee were not to be denied further success. When a good Lisburn scrum won them the ball, Donaghadee’s heavy brigade once again asserted their superiority by shoving their opposing eight right back over the ball. The players were probably imagining a stylish score if possible, but all sports players know the expression ”they all count.” A huge fly kick on half-way from Alistair Lockhart took the ball and all thirty players right to the Lisburn line, and from the ruck the same player did one of his subterranean turns to find the gap that gave his side a further 5 points and the kick another two, making the game score 18-9.
One of the better measures recently introduced to Rugby Union has been the bonus point for scoring four tries, and suddenly Donaghadee were in a position to think about gaining the two tries they could perhaps use later in the season. Was there time for two more now that Donaghadee had established so much authority? The Donaghadee forwards, as forwards do, had now determined who was going to win, and the other half of this old rugby mantra is that it is the backs who decide by how many. The pack soon presented their backs with a good opportunity, and boy, did they take it. Good fast hands and seriously dangerous running first made the ground and then Garnham, having a day out with his pace and penetration, finished it. Lisburn’s defence simply could not stop him and he went over out left.
With the score now 23-9 and three tries in the referee’s notebook, the last few minutes were about Donaghadee striving for their fourth crossing of the goal-line. Although Lisburn were now a beaten side, this brought the very best out of them and they kept Donaghadee out until the final whistle. So, no cigar for Donaghadee, but a solid win, a strong and impressive show of force by the forwards and some resolute running by the backs had stirred the spectators and turned the team’s attention to the next hurdle in their ambitious season – the trip to Coleraine to play the students at UUC.
Donaghadee team: Billy Allen, Chris McGivern, Richard Millar, Colin Smyth, Rory Garnham, Andy Monson, Alistair Lockhart: Chris Good (c), Gareth Gordon, Chris Schofield, David Thompson, Richard Martindale, Stuart Hutchinson, Chris Hamilton and Paul Hamilton.