Maroons hope for Gala day as cup excitement starts to build

GALASHIELS, UNITED KINGDOM. - 10 / April / 2012 : ''Gala preparing for Cup Final at Gala RFC, Netherdale, GALASHIELS.'Richie Gray and Opeta Palepoi share a laugh and notes ahead of the Scottish Rugby RBS National Cup Final on Sat 21st April''(Photo by  ROB GRAY / digitalpic / Freelance )'(� 2012)
GALASHIELS, UNITED KINGDOM. - 10 / April / 2012 : ''Gala preparing for Cup Final at Gala RFC, Netherdale, GALASHIELS.'Richie Gray and Opeta Palepoi share a laugh and notes ahead of the Scottish Rugby RBS National Cup Final on Sat 21st April''(Photo by ROB GRAY / digitalpic / Freelance )'(� 2012)

IT might be 13 years since Gala last got their hands on the Scottish cup but they will arrive at Murrayfield on Saturday in much the same upbeat mood as in 1999.

With the pre-match build-up gathering momentum, the ground will be buzzing with all the excitement that a cup final always generates.

On that memorable day when they captured the cup for the first and only time, Gala were already basking in the satisfactory glow that came from winning the Division Two title, and gathering in the Melrose Sevens Cup for the 15th time.

This year, with a place in next year’s British and Irish Cup already booked, and with the Border League title their next challenge on Wednesday at Philiphaugh, the Maroons feel that their time has come again.

A lot of changes have taken place at Netherdale, as elsewhere in the game, since 1999, and none of the victorious team back then will take the field for Gala this weekend.

Not that they’ve all departed from an active life in the game. Still very prominent, of course, is Chris Paterson, architect of the 1999 victory and scorer of the eight Gala points that saw off Kelso.

And still in the squad this year at Netherdale were Tom Weir and Alan Johnston, each of whom played in the 1999 cup final and both of whom have turned out for the club this winter.

Just along the road, John Dalziel, who has missed recent Melrose games through injury, has had another active season. He had to make do with a seat on the bench in 1999 but had played a big part in Gala’s build-up.

April 24 was a great day for Gala – and indeed for the Borders – with Duns and Jed-forest also appearing in finals the same afternoon, and winning respectively the Bowl and the Shield.

The Scottish Cup, sponsored in these days by Tennent’s, was still in its infancy, and it was only the fourth time that knock-out club rugby had served up the big finish to the Scottish season.

Even in that limited time, Borders teams had made a great contribution to Cup Final day. By 1999, clubs from the south country could relish appearances in ten out of the 12 finals for Cup, Bowl and Shield.

The Gala side that afternoon was full of skill and character, and was led by Richie Gray. He had among his committed players the likes of Chris Paterson and Nathan Hines, both of whom went on to have great careers for Scotland. Michael Dods had played eight times for his country and Steve Scott was capped when the professional game was established.

Centre David Gray came to full playing maturity in sevens and played for his country in the IRB tournament.

This year’s side may lack players who know the Murrayfield turf well, but one who has lived with the atmosphere of the big arena is, of course, George Graham.

Gala’s coach made about a dozen of his international appearances in Edinburgh, often in his successful role as an impact substitute prop, and is relishing another look at the big stage.

The Maroons bring a tradition of consistency to the Scottish Cup. They have played 58 ties in all, covering the knock-out formula and the pool set-up which has just been introduced. And they’ve won 44 of these games.

While contesting the cup, Gala have met Ayr twice, winning on both occasions. They won 32-0 in 2008-9 but the game they will be recalling in the next few days will be the first tie they played in their cup-winning year.

Victory over Ayr by 32-7 was one of the steps, and a vital one, on the road to Murrayfield, a road that the Maroons are travelling again this year.