After a couple of weeks of cup fever in Donaghadee and the Junior Cup Final success at the end of 2011, cup action returned to Donaldson Park in the form of the 1st Round of the Towns Cup.
Portadown were Donaghadee’s first round opposition and after two previous visits to the Dee this season, including a Junior Cup semi-final defeat, neither team could say they were venturing into the unknown.
Donaghadee had a number of changes to the cup winning starting line-up with starting places for Kyle Morrow, Ryan Willis, Keith McIlwaine and player-coach Ian Martindale.
Portadown also had a handful of returns to bolster their starting line-up, and started the game at high tempo - quickly establishing territorial advantage. Their early dominance to the game rewarded through a well taken penalty on the 15th minute.
Donaghadee’s effort could not be faulted in the early part of the game, but they lacked the cohesion to starve the determined away side of possession and unlike perhaps their previous visits to Donaldson Park Portadown were clinical in their set piece play, and for long periods outmuscled Donaghadee.
On the 22nd minute Stuart Lamb secured the ball on a Donaghadee line–out and stormed into Donaghadee’s 22 area, and although Billy Allen made an excellent covering tackle, intelligent support play from Portadown skipper Gareth McCoy allowed Lamb to offload and the skipper ran unopposed to touch down close to the Dee uprights. The conversion was missed to give Portadown an 8-0 lead.
Portadown extended their lead five minutes later with a fine solo effort from their out-half who received the ball just outside the Donaghadee 22 and after a quick show of the ball to his inside centre he created enough space to run in unopposed and touched down under the Donaghadee uprights. The successful conversion give the visitors a 15-0 lead, and Donaghadee the unfamiliar task of overcoming a double point deficit for the first time in the 2011/12 season.
Although the second half performance was arguably the highest standard of rugby football observed at Donaldson park this season, it was the tremendous defensive effort in final ten minutes of the first half that give Donaghadee the opportunity to compete in the second period with Billy Allen doing particularly well to defend his line and field some excellent high balls as Portadown continue to mount pressure.
Half-time: Donaghadee 0 Portadown 15
A rather subdued Donaldson Park crowd decided the best way to face the adversity of being behind to a well drilled team was to get fully behind the home team, and as the men in red and green lined up to start the second half there was a palpable increase in desire that suggested there was an exciting half in store.
On the 41st minute a strong run from Ian Martindale required a couple of blue shirts to wrestle him to the ground which created space for the back line, but it was Dee skipper Bobby Harpur's ability to support and release quick ball to Rory Garnham on the right wing that created the space to give the speedy winger an opportunity to build up a head off steam. They young winger has been in great form since his return to the side, and brushed off his tackler to touch down in the club house corner. Ricardo Santos’ conversion went narrowly wide.
Donaghadee secured possession from restart, and the experienced Paul Blewitt used a small wind advantage to put Donaghadee on the offensive with a cross field kick in the direction of Santos. Although the ball bounced off the playing surface the bounce was kind to the oncoming Santos, who showed impressive pace to score the second try in the clubhouse corner in a two minute period. Santos converted his own try to reduce the deficit to three points only.
A penalty apiece followed the frantic start to leave Donaghadee three points adrift, however after Donaghadee’s penalty attempt there was a noticeable change in the momentum of the game, with Donaghdee’s pack starting to dictate the loose play. Under the marvelous stewardship of club stalwarts Chris Good and Gareth Gordon those returning to the side such as Kyle Morrow and Keith McIlwaine started to grow in confidence and carry the ball with purpose into the Portadown half.
During a continued period of Donaghadee pressure Portadown back row forward Stuart Lamb was sin-binned for an infringement at the breakdown on the 17th minute. From the resulting offence Santos successfully kicked a penalty that leveled the scores going into the final quarter of play.
In the 32nd minute the incredible comeback was complete and the Junior Cup winners nosed ahead with Santos’ fourth kick of the day to give Donaghadee a 21-18 lead.
Overcoming a 15 point deficit in the second half is in itself was not a season defining result, but to do it in the fashion that Donaghadee did last Saturday - against a team that came into the game on the back of a few excellent results, and with a number of changes to the home side - showed another glimpse of the character that has very much defined the success of the Donaghadee squad this year.
Scoops Man of the Match:
Two men that, due to their front row duties, spend more time together than most share this week’s award: Chris Good and Gareth Gordon. Strong in defence and always looking for the ball in attack these two used all their experience to rally the troops in the second half.
Donaghadee team vs. Portadown
Billy Allen, Ricardo Santos, Bobby Harpur (c), Ian Martindale, Rory Garnham, Paul Blewitt, Alastair Lockhart; Ryan Willis, Gareth Gordon, Chris Good, Kalave Aualiitia, Kyle Morrow, Keith McIlwaine, Kenny McCombe, Richard Miller.