Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup: Clogher Valley 8 Donaghadee 8

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Richard Martindale soars skyward to steal the possession that led to Rory Garnham’s try
Richard Martindale soars skyward to steal the possession that led to Rory Garnham’s try

Saturday 27th February. Harry Allen reports.

When the Donaghadee coachload arrived in Fivemiletown for the long-anticipated Junior Cup Semi-final there were mixed feelings. The sunny conditions apparent from the coach windows were quickly supplemented by the warm welcome given by the Clogher Valley men. As the game’s start approached it was the stiff Tyrone wind that took the players’ minds. This could seriously affect the game strategy. The Dee men were certainly focussed on their big task. Last week’s disappointing home defeat to Section One’s Enniskillen in the Towns’ Cup had hurt them, especially as it had come on the final whistle. Seven days later, once again up against a Section One side, they were determined to do better.

Clogher Valley chose to kick off with the stiff cross field wind favouring them, but almost immediately it was Donaghadee’s outside-half, Paul Blewitt, who put in a huge kick down field into the Clogher half. Here the speedy Jonny Webster forced an early lineout. However Clogher stole possession and cleared the ball up-field again. Here a Donaghadee player strayed offside at a ruck to give away the first kickable penalty. The CV out half Aaron Best had an early opportunity to put points on the board for Clogher only to see his kick drift wide. Was the day’s capricious wind going to play a big part in the contest?

When Blewitt’s restart eventually went into touch it was an enormous leap from Richard Martindale that took clean lineout ball that gave the out-half a chance to again take play up to the Clogher ten metre line. A crooked CV throw allowed Donaghadee’s Chris Schofield to make a break up the blindside, where it took a double-team tackle by Clogher’s Gary Andrews and Aaron Best to stop the rampaging prop in full flight. In the 13th minute a CV lineout was disrupted by Richard Martindale stealing the ball and feeding Dee scrum-half Jonny Phillips. Instantly he pulled the trigger for Donaghadee’s first real attack. Blewitt, then Bobby Harper and then Gavin Gordon gained both ground and position to give the ball to their flying left-winger Rory Garnham. He needed no second invitation to sprint forty yards and score an excellent try in the corner. The frisky wind then frustrated Richard Millar’s effort to add the touchline conversion, which left Donaghadee’s lead a tender but important 5-0.

Determined work by Dee second row Davy Thompson enabled Blewitt to take play up to the Clogher twenty two. From Millar’s clean lineout ball the Dee Captain Chris Good made a break in field with Kyle Morrow and Thompson supporting. A subsequent Donaghadee scrum provided ball for Blewitt to kick deep into the Clogher five metre area. Although Clogher Valley managed to clear their lines to their “22” it was the hands of the Dee forwards that secured the ball. Quick transfer by the Dee halves allowed their centre Gavin Gordon to make a terrific break from the Clogher twenty two towards their line. With full-back Stevie Marshall in close support and the CV line seemingly at their mercy a second Dee try seeming certain. But to the chagrin of the yelling Dee supporters the final pass went to ground and the ball was soon cleared.

When Donaghadee conceded a penalty on the Clogher 10-metre line the home team chose to run at their opponents. On the instant this threat was seen it was the ever-alert Gordon who averted the potential danger with a superb covering tackle. This lifted the visitors a bit and when the Clogher Valley captain was then penalised for holding the ball on the ground Millar was quickly up to take the kick that gave Donaghadee a more satisfying 8-0 lead.

For the large contingent that had travelled to Tyrone things were looking good as the half moved to its close. When Millar got another chance to add three points after the scrum had been pulled down, the difficult wind chose to interfere yet again and although every visitor blew to straighten the course of the ball it slid agonisingly wide.

The first period ended with a rush of excitement. First Phillips and Webster contrived to bang their heads together and then a CV penalty gave them a line-out in the Dee half. Martindale, having an outstanding game, once again stole the ball for Millar and Gordon to make ground only for the final pass to go to ground. The home side seemed determined to have some points on the board at the break, but the Donaghadee players were just as determined to deny them until the ref’s whistle gave all thirty players, maybe not a holiday, but certainly a welcome break.

The visitors’ team talk must have contained a large exhortation to their players to keep Clogher Valley out for the remaining forty minutes. The Donaghadee players had been hoping that the diagonal wind would now be in their favour, but as these things so often are, the wind’s direction had veered ninety degrees and was still of some help to the home side. There was nothing else for Donaghadee but to play the better rugby.

Richard Millar and Rory Garnham in hot pursuit

They kicked off the second half with hooker Paul Hamilton’s determined charge securing the ball for them. Clogher Valley won possession back and took the play back up-field and into the “22”. When Millar was rushed into a clearance kick he slipped as he attempted to clear. To the delight of all Dee man the danger was averted when Clogher were penalised for going over the top at the break down. With ten minutes of the half played the Clogher Valley coach decided to throw his experienced substitute scrum half James Bates into the fray. He immediately made an impression forcing the pace of the Clogher play, and it was not long before Donaghadee had to concede a penalty. CV out half Aaron Best squeezed his kick narrowly inside the post for Clogher to reduce the Dee lead to 8–3.

From the restart the Dee team pushed the Clogher team back towards their twenty two The wind was not exactly ruining the game, but it was certainly making things difficult. Blewitt was still striving well at pinning Clogher back with his astute line-kicking and the pressure resulted in three difficult, but kickable, penalties being awarded to the Dee. Millar was fighting a continuing battle with the wind and soft surface but put the first two of these wide of the uprights. However, his third struck the post high up and it was Gavin Gordon who got to it first. He was quick to charge for the inviting line, but when tackled he was adjudged slow at releasing the ball and the Clogher Valley hearts beat again.

Probably through frustration at so often being so close without scoring any points in the half, Donaghadee’s discipline waned a little at this point, and the home side were grateful for the relieving penalty kicks. They were especially appreciative of the yellow card the referee deemed deserving for Davy Thompson and that took him for a cool-down in the sin bin.

France showed on Friday evening that the temporary loss of a player does not necessarily mean points to the non-offending side, but the men from Fivemiletown made sure they got some with B J Wilson touching down for the all important try. The equally important conversion kick flew outside the posts to leave the score teetering on 8-8. At around this point Donaghadee prop Chris Schofield was forced to leave the contest, bringing Noel Angus in to help keep the Donaghadee scrum solid. Anxiety became the players’ biggest enemy with all players striving for the key to break the tied score. Perhaps not setting his team’s best example, although certainly proving his commitment, the CV captain Gary Giles was shortly to join his opponent on the touchline for a short rest.

In a tightly-contested cup-tie when the referee’s whistle ends a match tied at 8 – 8 it is rarely satisfactory, although perhaps last Saturday a draw was a fair result. Nevertheless the Dee men will have been kicking themselves all week that they did not convert those try scoring opportunities in the first half and those kickable penalties in the second half.

It must be said that Donaghadee have certainly kept the flag flying for the Qualifying Two sides. They have performed very well against three Qualifying Ones sides in their last four matches, and most watchers seem to agree that it indicates that there is little difference between the teams in the top half of Section Two and a good many of the teams in the Section immediately above. Such sustained achievement was rewarded earlier this week when it was announced by the News Letter that Donaghadee had been given the Kukri Club of the Month Award (actually, due to the weather-ravaged nature of this winter, for both January and February). This is a massive reward for the efforts of Donaghadee’s players, coaches Ian Martindale and Jimmie McCoy (not forgetting Physio Niall Moraghan) and their large band of faithful supporters in the season that marks their 125-year proud history. A cruel spate of serious injuries, nine intense Cup games and a succession of excellent League wins in the last few months has made for a busy time for all concerned, but if it wasn’t hard it would not be as worthwhile.

Donaghadee’s players, coaches and supporters cannot wait for the replay against Clogher Valley next Saturday, although this eagerness is tempered with one or two worries about availability of some of their stalwarts. Last week the distance to the Tyrone/Fermanagh border prevented many loyal supporters travelling. With no 6-Nations distractions this Saturday (6 March) the crowd at Donaldson Park should easily surpass the huge numbers who watched the Towns’ Cup quarter-final tie against Enniskillen last month.

Donaghadee : Stephen Marshall, Jonny Webster, Bobby Harpur, Gavin Gordon, Rory Garnham, Paul Blewitt, Jonny Phillips: Chris Schofield, Paul Hamilton, Chris Good (C), Kyle Morrow, Davy Thompson, Richard Millar, Chris Hamilton and Richard Martindale.

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