Millar McCall Wylie Junior Cup: Donaghadee 14 Clogher Valley 29

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Saturday 6th March. Harry Allen reports. (Above picture: Kevin Monson starts an attack with Richard Millar in support.)

When the staunch Donaghadee supporters watched their First XV take the field at Donaldson Park last Saturday there was only one serious question in their minds. Just how many changes had been forced on them in seven short days? The regulars at this season’s games could see that it looked a decent team, but where were people like Good, Thompson, Martindale, Phillips, Webster and Allen? By any standards this was a huge change to have to deal with, and the intervening week’s optimism about playing Clogher Valley at home took something of a blow. No disrespect to the replacements, but losing the services of so many players can never be good for a team.

Donaghadee won the toss and played, as they prefer, up the slope. Within two minutes the spectators’ spirits were lifted by a sudden and exhilarating score by Donaghadee. From a quick scrum and an even quicker recycle the ruck that formed presented very useful ball for Donaghadee’s backs going left. Good handling and accurate passing involving Richard Millar, Paul Blewitt and Gavin Gordon presented Rory Garnham with the opportunity he loves. In the blink of an eye he was grounding the ball in Clogher’s in-goal for the first score. Although the kick by Millar was missed, the electronic scoreboard cheered the large crowd with its 5-0 scoreline.

Martin Coulter at the top of his line-out jump. Donaghadee Rugby

Minutes later Blewitt put a well-judged kick through the advancing CV defence line with the newly-returned Kevin Monson looking favourite in the frantic chase. Wishful thinking does not score tries, and Clogher breathed again after some sharp defence. Still, there was the 5-0 advantage, a nearly try and then a penalty shot. Breaths were held for Millar’s kick at goal, but he didn’t have his kicking boots that day and the score remained unchanged. Sadly this scenario was to be repeated a minute or two later. What might have been 13-0 after ten minutes was still only 5-0. Was this to prove significant?

Moments later the tide turned. A mix up during a Dee attack allowed the Clogher side, through their outstanding number eight David Sharkey, to break into the Dee half. The play was carried on by their scrum half Aaron Best and winger Andy Breen to the Dee five metre line. Clogher put a penalty kick to touch with their favoured catch and drive through. Best and then Breen supported Sharkey’s charge only to be held up on the line. The Dee side then had to withstand several scrums as the CV pack laid siege to the their line. Such pressure in recent weeks probably would not have bothered the Dee forwards overmuch, but with Chris Good, Davy Thompson and Richard Martindale missing and Chris Schofield showing signs that his injury last week at Fivemiletown was not 100% this onslaught from Clogher put serious pressure on the home goal-line.

CV hooker Adam Duhig, out half Wayne Lyons and centre David Dunlop soon combined to send full back David Speer in for a fine try in the corner, although Aaron Best was unable to add the conversion. Spectators had begun to notice the figure of Alistair Lockhart behind the Donaghadee eight. Many at DRFC know this young man well from his remarkable days in the youth section, but this was his first real adult outing. Having settled into the No. 9 spot very quickly, Lockhart impressed many when accepted the responsibility of putting a sudden halt to a dangerous Clogher Valley charge from a lineout.

Donaghadee’s domination of set pieces shown in recent weeks was clearly suffering. Another young buck with a good school’s reputation, Gareth Deering, was finding adult scrummaging harder than anything his mentor Jimmy McCoy had ever set him against on the school team. He stuck to his task throughout, but with Schofield visibly carrying a bad leg it was making for serious difficulties that Donaghadee had thought were behind them. Paul Hamilton was not getting the shove he needed and Donaghadee’s line-out options were few.

By contrast Clogher’s well organised team showed their precision in attack and patient ball retention as they threatened the Dee line. It was from a lineout that Clogher stretched their lead when BJ Wilson made a break that was well supported by Lyons and Best. Second row James McFarland played a key role in providing the all important pass for prop Gary Armstrong to storm over. Another kick went wide, but the score was now ten for the visitors and still only five for the hosts.

From the kick off the Dee won a lineout for Gordon to make a break, and another Blewitt kick into the in goal area denied Garnham a second try as the Clogher defence won the race for the touch down. From the drop out Kyle Morrow gathered to release Millar, Lockhart and Garnham only for the Dee to lose the resulting scrum. However a further Clogher infringement allowed Dee full back Kevin Monson to kick a forty yard penalty to reduce the Valley men’s lead to 10 – 8 to take into half time.

Now with the slope advantage the Dee kicked off the second half, and when Captain Bobby Harper won a penalty at a break down. Monson kicked this one as smoothly as the previous effort to give the Dee a 11 – 10 lead. With Morrow gathering up the kick-offs Donaghadee continued to apply pressure deep in the Clogher half. From an excellent clearance kick by the Clogher full back David Speer, Monson gathered on his own twenty two touchline to kick deep into the Clogher twenty two and find touch. Again clean Clogher lineout allowed Speer to clear the ball deep into the Dee half.

After the Clogher tight head Gary Andrews was penalised for pulling the scrum down Monson was unlucky to see his long-range penalty drift narrowly wide. Following yet another Monson clearance some good work by Millar and Hamilton in the lineout allowed the latter to break. Donaghadee’s difficulties at a subsequent scrum allowed Clogher to wheel and set their flanker Sharkey off. With the quick support of Lyons and Falconer creating space for centre David Dunlop, he raced in to score a well worked try with winger Jonny McClure adding the points.

The Dee’s response was immediate with prop Gareth Deering gathering a Clogher knock on to break down the middle. He off-loaded to Lockhart with the supporting Schofield unleashing Gordon to dash for the line. A cynical killing of the ball by Falconer brought a stern warning from referee David Coey to the Clogher player, although he escaped the yellow card. Donaghadee had to settle for the reward of Monson adding the penalty to reduce Clogher’s lead to 17 – 14 with sixty minutes played. At this stage Donaghadee’s forwards Marty Coulter, Millar and Hamilton were keeping the Valley men at bay. At this stage Coach Ian Martindale replaced second row Kyle Morrow with Andrew Dunn and hooker Paul Hamilton with Gareth Gordon, and when Monson kicked into the Clogher twenty two they failed to take clean ball at the lineout resulting in the alert Hamilton narrowly missing out on a touch down of the loose ball in the in-goal area.

At this stage what had been a pulsating game from end to end became less of a contest. With ten minutes still to go the tide swung in Clogher’s favour. From an innocuous scrum Sharkey broke with his scrum half, Best, supporting closely enough to squeeze in for his sides fourth try. McClure’ two extra points increased Clogher’s lead to 24 – 14 and little else but honourable defeat for Donaghadee. What the visitors could not foresee was prop Chris Schofield’s leg injury forcing him to retire, followed almost immediately by the loss of the services of fullback Kevin Monson. On his debut after a bad collar-bone break he had to quit with a serious arm injury. Schofield’s leg is a serious worry for him and his club, but Monson’s is possibly a career-ender. Hopefully not for this talented runner, but the word during the week is that the fractures to his upper arm require delicate surgery and a long recuperation. Both club’s were most solicitous for such a grave injury and wished him the best of attention and a speedy recovery.

Donaghadee were now short of a towering prop and their strike-running kicker. Schofield was quickly replaced by hooker Paul Hamilton through the front-row rule, but there was no rule to replace Monson. This was critical. With Donaghadee now down to fourteen players Clogher scored a fifth try when a charge from about six of their players eventually broke the ball to left-winger Jonny McClure who was able to close the game out with his side’s final try.

The Donaghadee men can be proud of their efforts in this season’s competitions. In the league, after a host of injuries early on they have maintained a competitive presence with high hopes of a good conclusion to their excellent season. Their long runs in Junior and Towns’ Cups have now created something of a fixture congestion, but also a desire to go into the summer break with more success. This spring campaign begins as early as this Friday the 12th March. Donaghadee have a crucial fixture when they entertain CIYMS under the lights at Donaldson Park – 7.30 PM Kick Off. For those who have yet to catch up, this will be the first ever Qualifying League fixture under floodlights at Donaldson Park, with the bonus of having a hungry CIYMS side looking for revenge after their Belmont defeat on 13th February.

Donaghadee: Kevin Monson, Marcus Gibson, Bobby Harpur (c), Gavin Gordon, Rory Garnham, Paul Blewitt, Alistair Lockhart: Chris Schofield, Paul Hamilton, Gareth Deering, Kyle Morrow, Martin Coulter, Stuart Hutchinson, Chris Hamilton and Richard Millar. Subs: Gareth Gordon and Andrew Dunn.

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