There was heartbreak for Gala as they relinquished their title ambitions, a point acknowledged by their coach, George Graham.
Stirling County – Tries: Lamb (2), Mountford. Cons: Archibald. Pens: Archibald (3).
Gala – Tries: McLean, Somerville. Cons: Millar. Pens: Millar (3).
“We are bitterly disappointed,” he said. “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.”
Indeed, Graham was quick to seize the plus points, despite the result.
“Overall, it has been a hugely positive season for us,” said Graham. “We have still qualified for the British and Irish Cup next season, we’re in the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup and, if we beat Jed-Forest, we’ll be in the final of the Border League.”
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.
“They are fighting for their lives and they were always going to lift their game and they deserved the win.”
Indeed, they did. County outscored Gala by three tries to two, winger Matt Lamb grabbing a brace for the home side, hopping the last few metres for the second after pulling a hamstring, and prop Garry Mountford driving over for the other. Brian Archibald converted just one but also scored three penalties.
For the visitors, Andy McLean and Grant Somerville managed first-half tries to augment an early kick from Lee Millar, the stand-off also adding the extras to the latter and a very late penalty as they ran out of time while chasing the game. But, in an often fraught encounter in which there were far too many instances of ill-tempered exchanges and indiscipline, Gala could not exert sufficient pressure on their hosts.
Even with Stirling’s Craig Deacons and Ben Addison being sin-binned in separate incidents (Bryce Turner, for Gala, was also yellow-carded for a dangerously high tackle), the Borderers were unable to capitalise on their numerical advantage.
County coach Graeme Young was justifiably pleased with his team’s performance, continuing their recent momentum.
“In the past two weeks we’ve beaten the teams third and second in the league.
“The most pleasing thing is that the guys are playing well. They are not tight and are not stressed. We are playing our game and attacking teams. If you can do that at this stage of the season and are playing well, you’ve got every chance of knocking any other side over.”
Both coaches identified the breakdown as a key area in this encounter, Graham criticising referee James Matthews for not policing it adequately.
He said: “The referee never controlled the breakdown area. I was very disappointed with his performance. There were a lot of things going on and he wasn’t on top of it.
“But I’m not using that as an excuse. We lost this game and rightly so.”
Stirling County: J Hope; B McGuigan, B Addison, B Archibald, M Lamb; S Edwards, C Turnbull; M McDonald, A Moffat, G Mountford, R Leishman, C Deacons, T Clarke, S Swindall, R Boswell. Subs: R Hogg, R Kennedy, C Hutton, S Robertson, B Barsanti.
Gala: A McLean; G Somerville, B Turner, C Borthwick, C Robertson; L Millar, G Graham; L Pettie, C Mackintosh, C Hogg, C Weir, O Palepoi, C Keddie, E Dods, G Graham. Subs: L Bertram, T Weir, B Murray, D Swenson, G Young.
Referee: J Matthew.