As the two teams lined up for the start of this match, the referee was asked to wait a minute because a letter posted from the Branch on Tuesday had just arrived five minutes earlier informing the Donaghadee club that Chris Hamilton was not eligible to play. By great good fortune Craig McCoy was able to step into the No. 7 shirt in quick time and the game began just five minutes late - but what a way to start a very important game.
Donaghadee began with an impressive composure, watching the referee repeatedly lecturing Lisburn players for unacceptable play or deliberate killing of the ball, but fortunately for them with no yellow cards. Equally fortunately all the associated penalties awarded to Donaghadee were too far out or mis-directed and the score stayed at 0-0 for about twenty minutes. Then quick ball left from Donaghadee’s forwards released their eager backline with a huge pass going from Nigel Barker out to Billy Allen. He instantly spotted that Lisburn had no right winger at home and put in a carefully weighted grubber kick for Chris McGivern to chase. The lively winger did this spectacularly well and beat the desperation defence to the touch for first blood to Donaghadee.
A few minutes later Donaghadee’s forwards showed their collective nous at a line-out, and with Paul Hamilton prominent they drove to the Lisburn line for the team’s second try and a 10-0 scoreline. With the strong possibility that any possible bonus points might prove crucial in the next couple of weeks the Donaghadee supporters began to speculate on the real possibility of two more tries with 50 minutes or so left to get them. Too soon. Lisburn got their act together and in quick succession scored a fine try, the conversion and a penalty goal for 10-10. What had been naive tactics of running without support from the rear of the scrum, poor handling and casual tackling by Donaghadee had allowed their opponents right back in the game. But suddenly in total contrast, Donaghadee mounted a combined backs and forwards attack using just about every player including impressive line penetration by Bobby Harpur, driving determination by Hamilton and brilliant opportunism by Barker for one of the team’s best tries this season. Andy Monson put everyone’s hearts in their mouths when he put his conversion in off the post for a more welcome 17-10.
Not long into the second half one of the Lisburn centres had to leave the field of battle, victim of an injury the previous week that he probably should not have risked. In spite of being a man down, Lisburn put two of Donaghadee’s more recent additions to the test with high awkward kicks but Ryan Irvine and McGivern were more than up to these and were able to retain possession for their team-mates.
With one more try needed by Donaghadee for a bonus point and almost assured victory, Donaghadee raised their game and time and time again were prevented by their opponents deliberately killing the ball. Secure in his mind that Donaghadee had now achieved overwhelming power, Captain Chris Good opted each time for the scrum. It took three or four repetition of this before the ball was scooped up by Monson who scuttled over beside the posts for 22-10, but perhaps more crucially that important fourth try.
Lisburn deserved credit for the way they continued to work hard in spite of the daunting scoreline and their man shortage. This changed when Harpur was adjudged guilty of slowing the ball down under his own posts and was given a yellow card for it and had to watch Lisburn gratefully taking the three penalty points. Even though Monson regained these shortly afterwards, it was a try that the faithful supporters wanted to see before the finish.
Their hopes were fulfilled almost immediately when yet another scrum close to the Lisburn line presented Barker with a small gap which he dived through for the concluding score. The final tally was Donaghadee 38 – Lisburn 13, probably a fair enough score for a game where Donaghadee always looked the stronger side, but where both sides sometimes sputtered in defence and attack, and occasional showed some excellent rugby.
Donaghadee team 15. Ryan Irvine, 11. Chris McGivern, 12. Bobby Harper, 13. Billy Allen, 14. Chris Woods, 10. Nigel Barker 9. Andy Monson: 1. Chris Good (Capt), 2. Gareth Gordon, 3. Chris Schofield, 4. Richard Martindale, 5. Stuart Hutchison, 6. Paul Hamilton, 7. Craig McCoy and No. 8. Richard Millar,