MOST of the players who take to Murrayfield in today’s Scottish Cup final have been here before, but there remains a heap of fresh, searing motivation, according to Melrose skipper Graeme Dodds.
Dodds, himself, was on the verge of calling time on his career midway through this season until a specialist was found in the south who could operate to correct a long-time and worsening hip injury. Just playing relatively pain-free is a huge bonus for Dodds now, so one can only imagine what featuring in another cup final must feel like.
Add in the fact that close rivals Gala claimed the cup last season, the departure of Craig Chalmers as coach, and of club favourites John Dalziel and Wayne Mitchell as players, and Dodds is confident that the Borderers will not want for motivation today.
“It is great to be going back to Murrayfield, because this is what you play for,” he said. “A lot of us have been here before but that is all forgotten now and this feels unique, personally because of what I’ve gone through this season, but, more importantly, as a team because we’ve been away from it for a year and we’ve not had a good season in the league.
“Chick [Chalmers] is the first to admit that this is not about him; it’s about the players, supporters and everyone else in the club and the area. But Chick has done a lot for us. He has brought a lot of talented players through to become good club, and some pro and international players; we’ve won two league titles, a cup, sevens and the Border League. So he’s brought a lot of success back to the club, and we feel, as a group of players, that we owe him something in his last season and we want to bring the cup back for him.”
In a 13-year senior career, Dodds has played under Eric Paxton, Gary Parker, Keith Robertson, Bryan Easson and Andy Henderson as well as Chalmers and Dalziel. And he believes Chalmers is unique.
“They were all good coaches with different skills, but Chick brings an incredible winning mentality. Second-best is simply not good enough, whether it’s sevens or 15s, training games or full league or cup matches. He doesn’t accept mistakes. He doesn’t accept getting beat. And players feed off that to make themselves better.
“He is also very professional obviously, because he and John both played professional rugby, and they have changed little things that has made the Melrose set-up more professional.
“This year we have under-performed and while it’s the players that ultimately win the titles, a coach is important, but conversely this year we feel, as players, that we have let down the coaches. So, now we have an opportunity to put it right.”
Chalmers does not see it quite so black and white and while he has strived to keep any excuses from the players’ minds, he accepts that the loss of Dodds from key games during the season, as well as other back rows Grant Runciman and Andrew Nagle, has cost the team.
Now, Melrose are back to almost full-strength and, after raising their game to beat Gala in the semi-finals, Chalmers believes further improvement is as possible as it is necessary to come out on top this afternoon.
“It has been a tough season for us in different ways, but that’s sport,” Chalmers said. “I haven’t made any excuses, and injuries have allowed us to blood a lot of young guys, 18 and 19-year-olds, who will not be playing this weekend but have had a taste of first-team rugby and will be better for that next season.
“But the cup is fantastic and has given us something to keep playing for. The league is the one you play for and want to win, first, but we have kept our season alive in the cup by beating Selkirk and playing well against Gala, and this weekend we will have to be 15-20 percent better than we were at Gala to beat Ayr.
“We’re the underdogs because we haven’t performed as consistently this season, but we have a big performance in us because we have quality players, a lot of experience and a lot of young talent that hasn’t quite come out altogether yet this season. If we improve on our performance against Gala this could be the day it does.
“I am pleased with what we’ve achieved in the time I’ve been involved, but this is not about me, John [Dalziel] or anyone else who’s retiring. This is part of a cycle.
“There’s a bit of emotion there but really all you want is to see a ‘W’ next to the cup and our name. We can get all emotional after the game if we take our chances and win.”
Melrose: 15 F Thomson, 14 C Anderson, 13 B Dick, 12 J Helps, 11 A Dodds, 10 R Mill, 9 B Colvine, 1 N Little, 2 W Mitchell, 3 G Holborn, 4 G Dodds (capt), 5 P Eccles, 6 J Dalziel, 7 G Runciman, 8 A Nagle, Subs, 16 R Ferguson, 17 S Lowe, 18 R Miller, 19 R Ovens, 20 S McCormick, 21 A Skeen, 22 A Letham,
Ayr: 15 G Anderson, 14 R Dalgleish, 13 R Fergusson, 12 D Kelbrick, 11 C Gossman, 10 R Curle, 9 P Jericevich, 1 D Mutamangira, 2 H Wisnewski, 3 G Hunter, 4 S Sutherland, 5 C White, 6 R Doneghan, 7 A Dunlop, 8 C Forrester (capt), Subs, 16 S Fenwick, 17 N Cox, 18 D Rae, 19 P McCallum, 20 G Fisken, 21 M McConnell, 22 C Taylor
AS a local boy who has returned to the club, Livingston captain Andy McMahon can’t wait to lead out his charges in the Shield final against Marr.
Last year Livingston had a torrid time in RBS National One, winning just one league match and conceding over 1000 points, and the death of club stalwart Donald Naysmith galvanised former players to talk about a return.
Among them was 32-year-old former Currie centre McMahon, and their experience augmented by a number of talented youngsters has seen the first XV clinch the RBS East One title and the RBS
Edinburgh Regional Shield.
McMahon said: “I always wanted to come back at some point and this year has been great to be part of.”
Marr have been the in-form club in Scotland, winning RBS West One with 17 wins from 17 to date, and captain Stephen Adair, who has won the Scottish Cup with Ayr twice, said: “To win at Murrayfield would mean a lot to everyone.”
RBS Shield final (2pm) teams
Livingston: D Edwards; K Buchan, R Neil, A McMahon, J King; C Bolan, J Bruton; M Tamosaitis, L Barrett, N Scobie, S Hay, J Millar, J Watt, S Logan, A Johnston. Subs: D Stone, A Scobie, G Caldwell, A Laird, B Middlemass, S Mushet, G Wilson.
Marr: C Bickerstaff; S Bickerstaff, A Gault, A Rankin, G Ness; R McGee, G Baird; C Nisbet, S Adair, F Ferguson, C Craig, K Kirk, S Kirk, P Burke, F Grant. Subs: R Kennedy, D Morrison, A Johnstone, J Evans, A Bate, A Mill, M Paxton.
Grangemouth Stags hope to cap their renaissance by winning the Bowl final against Oban Lorne this afternoon.
In 2010/11 Grangemouth finished bottom of RBS Caledonia One. Last term they finished second in RBS Caledonia Two Midlands and, if Glenrothes don’t leapfrog them with a bonus point win at Harris Academy today, they could win the Division One title, too.
Coach David Jamieson said: “We tried to bring a bit of structure to the playing side of the club to go hand in hand with the great facilities that we have. To be taking the club to Murrayfield is huge.”
In their 50th year, Oban Lorne travelled through to Edinburgh last night and were kept on tenterhooks until they arrived at their hotel to find out who would be starting. Today will see a father and two sons and a set of twins playing for Oban Lorne and, to many, that is what grassroots rugby is all about.
RBS Bowl (noon) teams
Grangemouth Stags: P Johnston; J Denny, G Dempsey, D J Innes, K Pedyo; C Sangster, R McPherson; S Carrie, J Craig, D Jamieson, C McFarlane, C McInally, G Curran, D McFarlane, S Neil. Subs: J McNab, C Serafini, S Binnie, I Weir, B Aspinall, D Ward, S Allan.
Oban Lorne (from): R Jackson, C MacLachlan, C Wright, C Smith, A Cadzow, R Aitken, D Pender, L Burns, R MacQueen, T Sutherland, J MacMillan, N Rimmer, S Smith, A MacDougall, C Louw, A Johnstone, M McTighe, F Mathieson, L MacLachlan, A Wright, R Wright, C Ferris.