Ophir Firsts, supported by Ballyvesey Recycling Solutions, completed their Qualifying League programme last Saturday with a welcome return to home territory at Magowan Park.
Over the past two months the wet weather had played havoc with the Cottonmount turf and home fixtures had been played away or at the Valley Leisure Centre. Holywood were familiar opponents having been the opponents on three occasions in Cup and League matches during the season. All the games had been closely contested but Holywood had come out on top on two occasions.
Ophir kicked off but the ball failed to travel the regulation 10 metres. This set the pattern for an error strewn period of play until Ophir were penalised under their own posts for holding the ball on the ground. Holywood gratefully accepted the points. Then out of nowhere, Ophir full back David Walker took the ball on the wing, chipped ahead, beat the Holywood No. 8 to the ball and dribbled to the line to pick up and score. Walker narrowly missed converting his try but Ophir led 5 – 3. The remainder of the half, which was mysteriously extended to some 50 minutes by the referee, saw Holywood exert severe pressure on the Ophir defences and apart from one exciting burst from Ophir wing, Cillian Rooney, Holywood largely retained possession. The penalty they converted in the 10th minute of extra time was scant reward for their efforts but at the break they led 6 – 5.
Four minutes into the second half, Holywood at last broke through the Ophir defence; their blind side wing forward breaking the despairing tackling for a fine try. The conversion was good. 8 points separated the teams and with Holywood growing in confidence, it looked like Ophir were heading towards another disappointing result. But in spite of the amount of ball the visitors enjoyed the Ophir backs held firm and denied Holywood any scoring opportunities. Then on a rare excursion to the Holywood line, Ophir recycled possession and in typical style, flanker David Lucas crashed through three tackles to score.. The conversion was missed but now Ophir were playing with renewed belief. Encouraged by their coach, Ken Campbell, the defence tackled magnificently, helped by a number of tremendous clearing kicks from James Milligan and Ron Bell. In the 27th minute, Ophir wing Steven Hastings was yellow carded for an aggressive incident. But this setback only appeared to galvanise the Ophir team spirit and the 14 men played like 16. Taking the ball to the Holywood line, the Ophir pack recycled the ball five times before back row David Lucas side stepped a tackle and touched down midway between the posts and the touchline. The conversion was missed but Ophir led for the second time in the match, 15 – 13. From the restart, Ophir camped on the Holywood line and that’s the way it stayed until the final whistle. A fine win to round off an excellent season for Ophir’s Firsts.
There was not such good fortune for Ophir’s seconds on the adjacent pitch. Against formidable opposition in the shape of Armagh Thirds, Ophir were at least 30 points behind when back row, Brian Harper suffered what appeared to be a broken ankle. Ambulance assistance had to be called and the referee wisely abandoned the match. His Ophir colleagues wish Brian a speedy and entire recovery.