23 Apr Kirkby Lonsdale 41 – 31 Birkenhead Park
Passion In The Park
A personal view by Cammie Hodgkinson
Nobody does it better and there is no better place to be than Underley Park on days like this with 240 people sitting down to lunch under a clear blue sky with the prospect of a cracking game to come.
In a moment of high emotion ex Skipper and figurehead player Matt Hughes led the team onto the pitch running down an avenue of mini and youth players to take his few moments alone on the pitch and acknowledge the cheers of the crowd in this his last game. Happy retirement Matt and thanks for everything you’ve done for the club.
Park kicked off towards the town and a penalty gave them the lead at 0 – 3 after three minutes but this was equalised a few moments later with a Ryan Terry penalty to make it 3 – 3. Park hit back but fumbled the ball at the back of a ruck inside the Kirkby twenty two and the worst thing happened for them when Kirkby’s left wing Harry Huddleston neatly picked it up and sped down the line, outpacing the cover to score in the corner, Terry converted from the touchline to extend the lead to 10 – 3.
But Park had come to play and they spurned a kickable penalty to put the ball in touch around ten metres from the Kirkby line and following a clean catch at the lineout they were able to rumble over for a try, the conversion levelling the scores again at 10 – 10 with fifteen minutes played.
And they tried exactly the same penalty ploy as the game went into the second quarter, once again catching clean ball and setting up a drive but this time losing possession near the Kirkby line. Kirkby stand-off Dave Barton made some ground and then fed a beautiful pass to Huddleston which put him in space and he was away like a hare over the half way line with skipper Ben Walker in support. Cover closed in but Huddleston fed Walker who ran into the Park twenty two and then passed to right wing Harry Ralston for a spectacular try which covered almost the full length of the pitch.
Terry’s conversion put Kirkby back in front at 17 – 10 in the thirty ninth minute but in injury time Park levelled it with a converted try to send the teams in at half time 17 – 17 in a ding dong match.
Five minutes into the second half and Walker kicked for touch around ten metres from the Park line, it was their throw but Kirkby nicked it and drove for the line. Park were penalised, Walker went on a tap and go and caught Park off guard taking a couple of tacklers with him over the line as he scored, Terry’s excellent touchline conversion putting Kirkby back in front at 24 – 17 and there was more to come.
If the Ralston try had something special about it the next one was extra special and again almost the full length of the pitch with the maestro Barton conducting the tune as he ran out of his own twenty two, swapping passes with his outside centre Matthew Bargh as they cut through Park like flashing blades and ending with Barton scoring the bonus point fourth try. Terry again nailing the conversion to extend Kirkby’s lead to 31 – 17 with ten minutes of the half played.
If that knocked a little stuffing out of Park what happened next would have dealt with what remained. Seventeen minutes of the half played and Kirkby were attacking down the left wing and going through phases when the ball was passed out to Hughes lurking near the touchline and some twenty metres from the try line. There was plenty of defence in the way but it stood no chance as Hughes advanced, the roar of the crowd increasing with every step he took and it reached its crescendo as the big man crossed for the fifth try, a fitting event in his last game and the stuff of legend.
Terry wasn’t on target with the kick although Kirkby now led 36 – 17 as the game went into the final quarter but it was Park who scored next, a try under the posts following a period of forward pressure near the line, the conversion narrowing the gap a little to 36 – 24 as full time approached. An unconverted Terry try took the score to 41 – 24 almost on forty minutes before, deep in injury time, Park had the final flourish with a converted try making the final score 41 – 31, and then the party really began.
This victory takes Kirkby to eighth place in the league and to the top of Cumbrian rugby as their season ends and this exceeds all expectations in their first year at this level. Credit to the Players and to the Coaches in a season that was not without its difficulties with long term injuries and departures to contend with. However, this did provide opportunities for young players to step up from the Development Squad and it is extremely encouraging to see the quality of players like James Fishwick, Will Brown, Matthew Bargh, Harry Huddleston and Elliot Horner all comfortable at first team level and the future at Underley Park looks very bright indeed.
1 Elliot Horner
2 Matt Holyland
3 Tyran Fagan
4 Craig Galbraith
5 Matt Hughes
6 David Maka
7 Ross Towers
8 Alex Rogers
9 Ben Walker
10 Dave Barton
11 Harry Huddleston
12 Tom Pickthall
13 Matthew Bargh
14 Harry Ralston
15 Ryan Terry
16 Dan Armistead
17 James Law
18 Will Brown