Last Saturday at Kerr Park Holywood played host to Lurgan in the first of the round robin Gordon West Cup ties. The monsoon season also arrived just before kick off and the rainfall varied throughout the match between torrential and heavy. Grounds man Hugo Perry had the pitch looking first class for its seasonal debut and the brave souls that had ventured out to watch were there in hope, rather than expectation, of seeing a good contest. They were not to be disappointed with the result in doubt right up to the final whistle.
Lurgan kicked off and Holywood were immediately on the back foot as the visitors opened up brightly. Only three minutes were on the clock whenever Holywood gave away a penalty just outside their own 22. The offence was as much a forward pass as a penalty but the ref, who had a fair game all round in the atrocious conditions, though otherwise. Up stepped the Lurgan out half and coolly stroked the ball over to give his side a 0 – 3 lead.
Holywood had still to learn a lesson from what had gone before. Straight from a restart that didn’t go the requisite 10 metres Lurgan were able to launch another attack in to Holywood territory. Under pressure the Holywood defence failed to clear their line and in the process of trying to secure the ball under their own posts they conceded another penalty. Lurgan were not going to turn down a gift and so the same kicker garnered in another 3 points. There was barely 5 minutes on the clock and Holywood were trailing 0 – 6. This was not the start that Stevie Glover’s team envisaged or wanted especially as they were struggling to hold on to possession for any meaningful length of time.
On 14 minutes Holywood were awarded a penalty right in the centre of the pitch and a quick tap allowed Gary Stocker to release Stevie Glover who cut through Lurgan’s line before feeding the supporting Angus White who was hauled down just short of the posts. A needless penalty allowed Lurgan to clear their line and relieve the pressure.
One minute later and Lurgan had a player sin binned for a high tackle on the rampaging Joe Wood. This seemed to give Holywood a bit of a boost because the pack were suddenly on top of their counterparts and were able to string some passes together in phases of play.
On 17 minutes Holywood opened their own scoring account. Tremendous work by the forwards resulted in Lurgan being pushed off their own scrummage ball and the scrum reset in Holywood’s favour. A quick heel from hooker Cormac Smyth allowed Stevie Gilliland to pick up from the base of the scrum, break blindside and feed the attentive Angus White who dived over for the opening try of the game. Stevie Leyland’s injured wrist must have stopped him lifting his kicking boots as the conversion was missed but the score was 5 – 6.
It was beyond the half hour mark before Lurgan were able to break Holywood’s stranglehold on the match and venture out of their own half. They were no sooner at Holywood’s 10 metre line than Holywood gifted them another point scoring opportunity by giving away a stupid penalty. The fact that the kicker missed must have registered with the Holywood team because 20 seconds later they were penalised again. The closer effort sailed over the posts and Lurgan extended their lead to 5 – 9.
Holywood finished the half on the attack but the concession of too many penalties had meant that they were facing an uphill battle in the second half.
Right from the kick off Holywood continued in the same vein as they had finished the first by going on the attack. Lurgan were under pressure and started to make a number of errors so it was only a matter of time before they would concede a kickable penalty. They did concede one but Stevie Leyland’s kick drifted wide of the uprights.
Lurgan had hardly time to take the 22 drop out and Holywood were pack pressing their line. The home forwards were by now dominant in the loose and only required to connect a number of phases to score. Four minutes into the half Gary Stocker powered over in the corner from close range for a try and to take Holywood’s lead to 10 – 9. Joe Wood missed the conversion, but as the ref had been talking to the Lurgan skipper during the conversion, he was made to retake it. Practice, on this occasion, did not make perfect and he missed again albeit the second effort was better than the first!
It was a full 15 minutes before Lurgan managed to get into Holywood’s half and they were duly rewarded by Holywood conceding yet another long range penalty. The Lurgan kicker gratefully snapped up the three points and yet again Holywood trailed by 10 – 12. The home side’s cause wasn’t helped whenever Angus White was binned for a roughhouse tackle on 23 minutes. Sure enough, within 5 minutes Lurgan had a chance to stretch their lead but the usually reliable kicker was wide with his attempt.
With the match seeming to be agonisingly out of range for Holywood they were awarded a penalty almost in front of Lurgan’s posts with only 5 minutes left on the clock. Lurgan’s sure shot kicker’s presence on the field turned out to be short-lived as the ref sent him for an early bath following yet another high tackle on a Holywood player. Stevie Leyland showed an iron resolve to kick the penalty and give Holywood the lead back at 13 – 12.
All Holywood had to do was hold out for the last four minutes and as they hadn’t been under pressure the crowd would have thought that well within their capabilities. However, the match and the ref had one last twitch to make as deep into injury time Lurgan were awarded a penalty right underneath Holywood’s posts. Enter Lurgan’ reserve kicker and full back. Pressure can work on players in different ways because he could probably have converted that kick 99 times out of 100. This however was the one time he didn’t and the kick squirted low and wide to the relief of Holywood.
The final score of 13 – 12 meant the team that had at least scored tries won the match. Had Holywood been able to borrow Lurgan’s kicker the game would have been out of sight for the visitors for a long time. Holywood’s pack was immense on the day and man of the match deservedly went to Gary Stocker who had worked tirelessly all afternoon. The backs had coped admirably in atrocious conditions and overall there were a number of positives for the team to work at on the training pitch. Special mention must also go to Simon Hobson who was making his debut on the 1st XV and acquitted himself more than honourably on a day when tackles had to stick and hard yards around the fringes were imperative. He will doubtless be back to do battle again.
On Saturday Holywood seconds had an away trip to Monaghan, and after squeezing most of the team into the smallest 17 seat minibus on the planet they hit the road in high spirits looking for their first win of the season.
Monaghan kicked off the first half and although the ball was gathered in by the pack it was clear the bus trip had taken its toll because the ball was turned over by Monaghan and after a few phases and some great tackling by Holywood the ball was bundled over the line 5-0 to Monaghan followed by the conversion to make it 7-0. It was beginning to look like a long day at the office when Monaghan rucked and mauled up the pitch looking strong but an infringement gave them a kicking chance which was put over the bar to stretch their lead to 10-0.
Holywood then from the restart began to get a rhythm going and shook off the bus trip. There was a spell of 10 minutes with no scoring and just as it looked like Holywood were in the ascendancy Dan Browning received a yellow card in the 26th minute. His 10 minute “rest” was for getting punched in the head four times before throwing a haymaker of his own only to realize the guy had taken a step back leaving nothing but air. This was a big loss to Holywood and it was not helped when Matt Stone was carded for not rolling away from a tackle which was quite bemusing as he had six other big guys on top of him.
The first half ended and even with fourteen men on the pitch the Holywood team were looking as though they could turn this around with the two centres Ricky Smith and Ian Wilson looking to take the game by the scruff with big hits and disrupting the flow of the Monaghan back line.
From Holywood’s kick off the ball was knocked on by Monaghan and from the scrum Holywood moved the ball out to the back line and hit up hard. There was an infringement at the ruck and the referee awarded a penalty to Holywood forty yards out. Robert Cooper was on kicking duties and duly made the score 10-3.
Matt Stone rejoined the game after his spell in the sin-bin and immediately started to impose himself on the game with hard tackles and big hits in the scrum which was being led by Chris Murray and doing well against a much bigger team. Holywood gifted Monaghan a penalty in front of the posts which was drop kicked over by their number ten who had played well all day 13-3.
With fifteen minutes to go the Monaghan number eight was sin-binned for what could only be described as a stamp on the back of Ricky Smith as he lay on the ground. Holywood kicked the ball to touch for the line out but with a crooked throw turned the ball over for a Monaghan scrum after some driving forward by the pack the Monaghan winger popped up in the middle of the park to bulldoze his way under the posts. The winger was one of those rare breed of wingers who was built so that he could also play front row if required! The conversion followed to take the score to 20-3. The Monaghan number eight returned to the pitch and within two minutes their prop scored under the posts after a strong fifteen yard run. The conversion was put over and with it came the final whistle leaving the score at 27-3.
Although he was sin binned Matt Stone was awarded Holywood Man of the Match and afterwards in the bar Dan Browning tried unsuccessfully to defend his boxing with shadows! Particular mention goes to those steely players who were making their debut for the team and who looked solid enough that with a few more games under their belts could take this side up a level and on to winning ways.