It seems strange for a football club to have a cup-tie as the start of their season, but last Saturday Donaghadee Rugby Club were pleased to welcome their old friends from Londonderry YM for a Junior Cup game. Although the visitors were now back in the same league section as Donaghadee, their season in the higher division had suggested caution to the Donaghadee player-coach, aware as he was that they had been playing some serious rugby in Section One. In addition he and his young Donaghadee side realised that a win would not only be useful in the cup competition, but would stay in the minds of their opposition when it came time for their scheduled league encounters. When they chose to receive the kick-off with the sun, wind and slope against them it appeared to the gratifyingly big crowd that this might mean a containing exercise in the first period and hopefully then a favourable second half aided by the elements.
If that pragmatic strategy was in the minds of the Dee men it disappeared in an instant. The kick-off landed right in the heart of the Donaghadee forwards and in an instant they give their signal of intent to opposition and spectators with a magnificent controlled maul that must have woken up their visitors. When this surge broke their opponents’ close efforts to hold it back, Philip Eadie burst up-field, passed to Davy Thompson who continued the high-speed attack. Only frenetic defence stopped the torrent just short of the YM line. The ball was recycled again and again with Ian Martindale, Gavin Gordon and Chris Hamilton going close to an opening try. Credit to YM, they held their line, but it looked like only just.
If this was not enough, waves of Donaghadee men hurled themselves again and again at YM. Each time a defensive pick-up or a penalty allowed the desperate defenders to clear their lines with long kicks. These seemed to have inspired the Donaghadee players more than deterred them, because again and again they slung the football left and right, put in miss-moves and reverse passes that both bewildered their opponents and it must be said inspired them to keep up their efforts. In circumstances such as this a try is almost inevitable. The game was now twenty-five minutes old. All thirty players were becoming fatigued and one mistake could open the whole field for a score. To Donaghadee’s horror it was their mistake. A slightly too ambitious long pass went just close enough to one of the YM centres for him to grab it. He quickly passed to his left winger and this speed merchant needed no advice to streak for Donaghadee’s goal-line through what was wide-open country. The try against the whole run of play and the easy conversion stunned Donaghadee, and the seven points was a blow that could have been mortal.
Showing team spirit and a high fitness level that the excellent pre-season sessions with Ian Martindale and Jimmy McCoy had built up, the Donaghadee players re-started exactly where they had left off. As the stretched YM defence forced attack after attack into touch, or a technical offence gave them the chance to clear their lines the spectators were entertained with beautifully executed set moves and some exhilarating off-the cuff dexterity. YM had no answer to this series of attacks, and their players were as certain as Donaghadee’s players and spectators that the score deficit would not be very long in going.
Nothing seemed to dent Donaghadee’s confidence. Coach Martindale nearly got in after some stirring runs from Gavin Gordon and Andy Findlater, but the referee adjudged that he was just short. Donaghadee simply reformed and went at it again. They knew they would score soon. YM were winning their own line-out ball through the efforts of their No. 6 jumper, but could not seem to do anything with it. In contrast Richard Martindale and Andrew Dunn were turning line-out possession into opportunities. The skirmishers Chris Hamilton and Stuart Hutchinson were snaffling up loose ball and the infantry of Richard Nelson, Gareth Gordon, Thompson and Eadie were magnificent in properly securing it to give their cavalry quick possession while their opponents were re-organising. It is probably true to say that every one of the Donaghadee players were able to gain ground again and again. The crucial breach was bound to come.
In what was possibly the best team effort of the game, first the forwards made great ground, then Jonny Phillips set off his stand-off, Martindale; Kevin Monson joined in and twenty metres out he supplied a perfect pass to his right-wing Michael Moore. Moore still had work to do, but he switched on the afterburners and got to the YM line a split second before the despairing would-be tacklers could get to him. Almost as a re-run, Donaghadee soon scored a second try in the same place, again with almost everyone contributing. Monson had been instrumental in both, but he did not have his kicking boots on, and the score was therefore 10-7, rather than the 14-7 it might have been, but, of crucial concern to Donaghadee, it was in Donaghadee’s favour.
It was not long before the forwards were showing that they could do the spectacular too. Thompo wrested the ball away from a maul and fed it to Chris Hamilton. He sold a couple of cheeky dummies and then presented Stuart Hutchinson with a serious scoring chance which he had no hesitation about. From 0-7 down to 15-7 up in five minutes was an amazing turn-around.
The second half saw Peter Stevenson replacing young Marcus Gibson on the left wing. Almost immediately came what many considered the try of the game. Once again getting a quick ball from forwards and scrum-half Phillips, he executed a perfect inside pass to a charging Findlater. There was no stopping him nor Monson’s conversion kick that took the score to 22-7. Donaghadee continued their master-class in support play, accurate passing and pacy running. It was a perfect demonstration of the work being done on those wet training nights.
Prop forward Robert Anderson was introduced to the fray at this point. Eager now to show even more of their stuff, Donaghadee were hungry for another try. Most of the backs got involved in an intricate move that bewildered the tiring YM defence and Hamilton went under their posts. The conversion and a slightly earlier penalty goal meant that Donaghadee now had a comfortable margin of 32-7. Some on the touchline were exhorting their heroes to try for more points, bearing in mind that they will be playing the men from Drumahoe twice more during the season, but as often happens when things have been going so well, the Donaghadee players took their collective foot off the pedal. Perhaps sensing this, and in desperate need for some comfort to take back to County Londonderry, YM put in that little extra, and got the reward they deserved. They put together a fine move that released the speedy winger to get the try that gave his kicker the opportunity to make the score a more encouraging 32-14.
This served to re-awaken Donaghadee, especially in the pack. The mounted another powerful attacking surge. So strongly and skilfully did they progress that whichever forward actually got the try was impossible to discern. Truly the credit in this case should be shared, and Monson duly added the extra two to make the final score 39-14.
The Donaghadee team was: Kevin Monson, Marcus Gibson, Andrew Findlater, Gavin Gordon. Michael Moore, Ian Martindale, Jonny Phillips; Richard Nelson, Gareth Gordon, Philip Eadie, Richard Martindale, Andrew Dunn, Stuart Hutchinson, Chris Hamilton and David Thompson. Subs: Robert Anderson and Peter Stevenson.