Dungannon cup of joy runs over
DUNGANNON completed a season of historic achievement at Ravenhill last Saturday when they defeated Malone in the final of the Ulster Senior Cup, a competition sponsored by First Trust Bank, and so captured the trophy for a fourth successive year. That victory gave Dungannon the unique distinction of being the only club this century to make it four wins in a row in the cup.
This latest success completed a real glory season for the club. It also brought a fitting end to the career of a man who has served the club so well and who has shared in all four cup triumphs, their captain and hooker Hugh McGaughey, who a few weeks ago led the club to promotion to the first division of the All Ireland League. In addition to the dual distinction of the senior cup and promotion, Dungannon also won the Ulster Provincial Towns Cup and the Ulster Junior Cup this season.
The celebrations on Saturday in the aftermath of their comprehensive win were in accordance with the depth of their achievements. It was, too, a very special occasion for Ashley Blair. With problems in the out-half position caused by injuries, notably to Keith McGarry, Blair, an interprovincial scrum-half, took over the number 10 jersey some time ago and has filled the berth admirably. He scored 17 points on Saturday and, by dropping three goals in the second half, fashioned his own piece of cup final history. It was, altogether, that kind of day for Dungannon.
It was not by any means a final in the classic mould as Dungannon, content in the vast superiority of their very accomplished pack and the kicking skills of Blair, relied for the greater part on those attributes. Malone, faced basically with a task of containment, defended with tremendous courage and resolution. Bearing in mind the amount of possession Dungannon won and the vast territorial superiority Dungannon enjoyed, it is a tribute to the Malone defence that it was breached just once.
One might also say that Dungannon should have spread the ball more often instead of constantly trying to break down the Malone defence close to the forward exchanges. Perhaps awareness of Malone's superiority as an attacking force behind the scrum induced the element of undue caution in Dungannon's approach.
Yet the try they scored eight minutes from the interval was well executed, and it took a superb saving tackle from Malone centre Maurice Field midway through the second half to stop Dungannon left wing Roger Cowan from scoring what would have been a spectacular try. But the basic Dungannon policy was keep it light and it paid the dividend.
McGaughey, in fact, has won five cup medals, four with Dungannon, whom he also led to victory two years ago, and one in 1987 with Ards, for whom he played before moving to the Dungannon area. He led his forwards very well and his line-out throwing was a model of accuracy. In this area Jeremy Davidson was superb. His two-handed catches were a telling demonstration in the art of line-out play and he had a most able ally in Paddy Johns.
The Dungannon pack was superior in all facets and were it not for the tremendous tackling and work rate of the Malone back row, of Stuart Duncan, Barry Sheridan and Denis McBride the Malone defence would have been breached several times. "Perhaps some people will say we should have been more expansive, but we played to our strength and I think the Malone defence also deserves a lot of credit," said Dungannon coach Dave Haslett.
Malone did well in the initial stages before Dungannon asserted their authority up front and maintained that superiority to the end. Blair and Colin Wilkinson exchanged early penalties before Blair put Dungannon ahead with a second penalty in the 23rd minute. Then, eight minutes from the interval, Dungannon made the breakthrough for a try. That came after a tapped penalty and forward drive, and a quick pass from Richie Weir to Blair, who moved the ball outside for full back Peter Sandford to score on the left. Blair converted, and Dungannon led by 13-3. Wilkinson then hit an upright with a penalty attempt just before half time, so Dungannon faced the second period with the cushion of a 10-point lead.
While they failed to break the Malone defence after the interval, Dungannon dominated up front.