Stirling County 26
MARTIN LAING reports from Bridgehaugh
GALA coach George Graham was quick to identify the positives from this campaign, despite his team losing at Stirling and, in the process, surrendering their title challenge.
“Overall, it has been a hugely positive season for us,” he said. “We have still qualified for the British and Irish Cup next season, we’re in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup and, if we beat Jed-Forest, we’ll be in the final of the Border League.”
However, despite his admirably upbeat response, Gala’s players and officials were evidently upset as their dreams of winning the Scottish club championship vanished in the sunshine at Bridgehaugh. Graham admitted that some of his charges were emotional following the match – and after hearing the news that Ayr had won and thus secured the title.
“We are bitterly disappointed,” said the coach.
“There are guys in the changing room with tears in their eyes. We wanted to win the league and we’ve missed it by a whisker. But it’s a learning experience and we’ll bounce back.”
He was generous enough to give credit to County, the club where he played for many years, having been born and brought up in Stirling.
“Take nothing away from Stirling. They are fighting for their lives and they were always going to lift their game and they deserved the win,” Graham conceded.
The home side were, indeed, good value for their victory, and it is one that eases their relegation concerns, though they remain mired in a dogfight to beat the drop that could potentially still involve all the teams up to and including third-in-the-table Melrose.
The Maroons had begun this match in high spirits, an early move resulting in a penalty that Lee Millar made the most of to take the lead. However, the advantage was short-lived and thereafter Gala were never again in front.
Brian Archibald booted Stirling level after eight minutes before winger Matt Lamb scored after charging down a poor clearance attempt.
Archibald then stretched the hosts’ lead with another penalty before Lamb again touched down, this time hopping the last few metres after pulling a hamstring. Archibald added the extras. But the Borderers deserved credit for hauling themselves back into the match with a try by Andy McLean and then, just before the break, another for Grant Somerville, which Millar converted.
Soon after the restart, Millar kicked Gala level, but County then moved up a gear and outplayed the visitors.
Archibald eventually restored Stirling to the lead with a penalty five minutes from the end and Garry Mountford rubbed salt in Gala’s wounds with a try that sealed victory, despite Millar reducing the deficit almost on full-time.
Gala: A. McLean; G. Somerville, B. Turner, C. Borthwick, C. Robertson; L. Millar, George Graham; L. Pettie, C. Mackintosh, C. Hogg, C. Weir, O. Palepoi, C. Keddie, E. Dods, Gary Graham. Reps: L. Bertram, T. Weir, B. Murray, D. Swenson, G. Young.