Back in the big time at Netherdale despite loss

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Gala 14

Stirling County 16

PREMIER GROUP B

LAING SPEIRS reports from Netherdale

EXACTLY seven years ago player/coach George Graham led Gala to promotion back to Premier One in a big win at Murrayfield.

He may not have been on the field at Netherdale on Saturday, but once again he took Gala back to the top flight, where he firmly believes they should be.

The Stirling match may have seen a minor blemish at the end when a last-minute penalty goal was Gala’s undoing, but the closeness of the result meant that big-time rugby will be back at Netherdale next season.

The Gala coach declared his continuing loyalty to Gala, “I’m absolutely ecstatic for everyone in Gala, and I’ll definitely be here next season,” he stated.

“We’ve got a lot of good young players and if we can supplement them with a few older experienced heads we have the makings of a very good team.”

The game was a colourful mix of near things and dramatic moves. More tries were missed by inches than were scored, and Gala were a shade unlucky not to win, a fact acknowledged by the Stirling coaches.

Both tries from the Maroons were the product of enterprise and awareness, and featured two of the outstanding players, Lee Millar and Euan Dods.

But over the entire side there were few blemishes and a distinct feeling that preparation had been thorough.

Gala recovered from some early attacks by Stirling and when they turned the screw themselves they came close with a charge-down clearance. But it was when a Stirling move broke down that Millar was up in an instant to pick up and outpace the defence for a try which he personally converted.

Jonny Hope scored with a penalty when Gala failed to release the ball, but then it was more Maroons with Gary Graham and Euan Dods held up on the line.

More Stirling pressure saw the home side just get away with it when the referee, caught up in a melee, had to deny the visitors a try. A near thing that could have had serious repercussions.

Fraser Hunter, a lively winger, was next to go near to getting over, and Euan Dods again just missed out on the try line which was becoming a no-score zone.

But that was put right straight from the second half kick-off, Euan Dods collecting a clearance, chipping neatly ahead, gathering and using some support to release George Graham and Opeta Palepoi, the latter getting his fifth try of the season, Millar converting.

Gala went through a bad patch which started with a try by Ross Aitken, converted by Hope, to bring Stirling to within four points.

But even although they recovered some of their confidence, the Maroons were forced to defend and Hope kicked two penalties, the last five minutes into injury time, to produce a win.

There was, in the end, something for everyone, a championship title for Stirling, promotion for Gala, and a grand night for the Netherdale supporters.

Gala: M. Walton; G. Young, B. Dick, S. Chapman, F. Hunter; L. Millar, George Graham; A. Johnston, E. McQuillan, Craig Hogg, O. Palepoi, D. Marshall, G. Haurua, Gary Graham, E. Dods. Subs L. Roden, C. Dods, L. Pettie and T. Weir.