Poor run of results leaves Boyne in relegation danger
AFTER making a big impression in their first two seasons of All- Ireland League rugby, Boyne RFC have entered a rebuilding phase in their history.
Twelve months ago they were sitting pretty as one of the title contenders in Division 2B, having won six of their opening seven games, but 2013 has proved more difficult.
'Consolidation' is a difficult word for a club such as Boyne's to come to terms with, given its fantastic record over the past five years which included back-to-back Provincial Towns Cup triumphs and promotion to the AIL.
But the departure of head coach Craig McGrath, who masterminded those glory days, together with some key players, has resulted in an understandable loss of momentum which may prove difficult to reverse.
Of course, the popular Kiwi was still in charge when 2013 kicked off, and at that stage the club boasted players of the calibre of the coach's countryman Chris Pusi at hooker, outstanding wing forward Nico Vorster, exciting out half Bryan Croke and flying winger Eoghan Duffy.
Even with a full-strength squad they needed to be at their best when resuming their league campaign after the Christmas break with an away game against leaders Rainey Old Boys.
The Magherafelt team boasted a 100% record from their seven previous games, and it proved a bridge too far for Boyne who conceded 35 points without reply in the second half and crashed to a 41-7 defeat.
There and then Boyne's title challenge effectively ended, but promotion remained a possibility. Despite failing to score for the first hour of their next game they overcame Clonakilty and climb to third in the table.
But that good work was undone the following week when they led hosts Instonians 11-3 with 15 minutes left but still returned home with a defeat following a late collapse.
Another of the promotion challengers, Nenagh Ormond, were Boyne's next opponents, and this was rugby's equivalent of a six-pointer. Unfortunately the Drogheda men let a half-time lead slip again and three agonising misses from the boot of Niall Kerbey proved costly as the Tipp men held on for an 18-16 victory.
A 43-18 demolition of Ards was the perfect riposte, though, and with six tries scored and a bonus point secured McGrath's men were back in the hunt.
With only three games left, though, Boyne needed to keep picking up bonus points and hope some of their rivals slipped up, and as it happened neither of those scenarios came to pass.
They did pick up a 10-3 win over Sundays Well from their first-ever AIL game in Cork city, but it wasn't enough and they had four players sin-binned in their penultimate game which ended in a humilating 63-17 home defeat by NUIM Barnhall.
It had been confirmed that Skerries' visit to the Lodge on the final day would be McGrath's last game before moving to Melbourne, and as he took up his usual viewing spot behind the posts, hands in pockets and braving the elements in a hoodie, it was easy to understand the lure of coaching in Australia and living in a house with a pool!
Collectively, though, the Boyne team had a sunny disposition and they proceeded to dismantle their North East rivals with an impressive 25-11 win to end the McGrath era on a high. The victory ensured they finished fifth in the table, four places and 14 points better off than 12 months previously - significant progress for the fifth consecutive year.
A few weeks later the outgoing coach's successor was confirmed - Irishman Mike Walls who, it turned out, battled for the number 9 jersey with McGrath at English club Coventry eight years ago! Walls was welcomed to Shamrock Lodge by the club's new president, ex Irish international Robbie McGrath, during a training weekend in June, and spoke of aiming for promotion during his two years in charge.
Results in the pre-season Leinster Senior Shield seemed to rule out any prospect of a strong challenge - notably a 74-9 roasting at the hands of NUIM - but the league campaign began promisingly enough with a win against Richmond.
Optimism increased when Walls' charges won their second-round match in Sligo - fighting back from 14-0 down - and they had three wins from three when hanging on for a 20-18 success against Instonians.
Next up were Skerries away from home and it was the Fingal outfit who extended their own unblemished record with a 32-10 win as Boyne's league challenge began to come off the rails.
A tough run of games continued with a similarly convincing loss away to Greystones, and the Drogheda side dropped into the lower half of the table when suffering a third consecutive defeat at home to Thomond.
There was to be no happy ending to 2013 as Navan made the short trip to their neighbours and departed with a 28-3 win under their belts. With Boyne having slumped into the bottom four, consolidation suddenly looks a rather attractive prospect - certainly more agreeable than relegation which now looms large.