At two o’clock last Saturday Donaghadee coach Jimmie McCoy was still facing selection problems for his First XV’s opening game of the league season. This had been because of a scarcely-believable series of cry-offs and late failures of fitness tests. Thursday’s training session had begun with the knowledge that Dougie Gordon, Billy Allen, Gareth Gordon and club captain Chris Goode were not available due to injury or other commitments and ended with doubts over the fitness of Ian Martindale, Rory Garnham, and Bobby Harpur. With visitors Enniskillen already in the middle of their pre-game warm-up, Donaghadee still were not sure of their line-up. The first bright spot was on the team list; Garnham was fit to play and some of Donaghadee’s new recruits were available and keen to play. The second bright spot was that the pre-game rain passed by and prospects looked good for the open game the Dee wanted.
Only a minute or two after Enniskillen kicked off the early tussling offended the referee and the finger of blame pointed at Donaghadee. The visitors’ kicker made sure of his shot at goal and his team was off to a 3-0 start. Things took a more ominous turn a few minutes later when, from some innocuous play in mid-field, the Enniskillen No. 4 burst free and showed a clean pair of heels to the despairing Donaghadee chasers as he run through their goalposts for the game’s first try. The simple conversion gave the Skins a slightly surprising, but nevertheless daunting, 10-0 lead.
With all that had gone before it would have been easy for the Donaghadee players to think this just was not destined to be their day. But, all credit to the self-belief and application this team now has, it was not to be long before they made some amends. The forwards gelled impressively out on their left-hand touchline where they took jealous possession of the football and under the encouragement of scrum-half Alistair Lockhart they worked infield and forward until Kyle Morrow used his weight and strength to crash over. Donaghadee’s captain for the day Paul Blewitt made no mistake with the conversion kick that took the scoreboard to a more comfortable 10-7. A few minutes later a Blewitt penalty kick took the teams level into the break.
The new half was only just begun when Blewitt emphasised to Enniskillen that they were playing in Donaldson Park when he took a simple pass in mid-field and slotted over a superb drop goal. Well, perhaps not actually superb, but certainly the three points awarded made the game now 13-10 to Donaghadee, and more to come.
When the referee became impatient with the visitors’ repeated offences on the ground and issued a yellow card to one of them, Donaghadee tried to capitalise on the numerical advantage of the man being on the touchline, but irony is never far away in sports, and it was Enniskillen who scored next with a penalty kick. Fifteen minutes to go and 13-13. Cue for a tense finish.
Donaghadee’s determined defence, with the Hamilton boys, Chris and Paul in outstanding form soon gave them the opportunity go in front again. With a great strike at a penalty out on Donaghadee’s right, Blewitt’s clever kick struck the upright high up and bounced into the arms of the strategically placed Chris Hamilton. He could not quite make the goal-line, but his forwards were right on the spot and in a few more seconds they presented the ball sweetly to scrum-half Lockhart who gratefully burrowed in for a well-deserved try. The kick after then made it 20-13 with only minutes left.
During these few remaining minutes both teams strove mightily, with Marty Coulter often the point man. However, an Enniskillen penalty goal and a couple more yellow cards spelt danger to the hosts. They hung in there and the referee finally eased the tension with the final score at 20-16 to Donaghadee.
Those first-team regulars who were able to play threw themselves into everything all day to keep Enniskillen on the back foot. But the young men who were drafted in late left neither themselves nor their club down with their efforts and determination. The Donaghadee club members are buzzing because of the excellent start to their league programme. With the injury list they are probably glad of the rest day they have next week, and know that they can go into the game on 18 September against BHSFP with confidence.
Donaghadee team: Ryan Irvine, Tommy Slane, Chris Beattie, Chris McGivern, Paul Garnham, Paul Blewitt, Alistair Lockhart, Jamie Wilson, Paul Hamilton, Chris Schofield, Kyle Morrow, Stuart Hutchinson, Craig McCoy, Chris Hamilton and Marty Coulter.
Next Saturday (11 Sept) Donaghadee’s other teams get their league programmes started. The Seconds entertain Ballynahinch 5, and the Thirds play Holywood 3, both games kicking off at Donaldson park at 2.30pm.
The following Saturday (18 Sept) as stated earlier the Donaghadee First XV
visits Greenisland to play BHSFP in Qualifying League 2. In the Junior League BHSFP 2 visit Donaldson Park to play Donaghadee 2 and in the Minor League the Dee Thirds open their season with a visit to Gibson Park to play Malone 4.
For Your Diary
Don’t forget, the club’s next social event in the new season will be a Barbecue at Pier 36 on Saturday 2nd October. This will follow at 7-30pm onwards (tickets £10) and will be after the First’s league match at Carrick.