For the Mighty 2’s, it was a chance to salvage some pride from a red-tinged rollercoaster of a season. From recent winning ways, they’d succumbed to two defeats on the trot, albeit one to a team stuffed with firsts and ringers. This being the last league match of the season, the importance of a final victory was hammered home by Mackie’s maverick coach, Bob Richmond. The 2’s wouldn’t be winning any leagues this season but they’d be playing for the badge, and in the case of captain Ali Pittendreigh, the chance to continue his family’s legacy as according to Bob, “his father and grandfather” had once done the club proud. Despite this historical inaccuracy, there was one huge club milestone that deserved a salute, as number 8 Paul Berrisford marched out for his last game of a glittering 25-year Mackie career.
Mackie won the toss and opted to play with the howling Redcloak gale billowing at their backs. However, it was Huntly who took the initiative, running sharp lines against some feeble “pat on the backside” tackling. The Huntly pack were large, colossal in some instances, but it did not excuse the paper-maiche defence on show. After some constructive criticism by Richmond from the sidelines, Mackie switched on and the hits began to fly. Suddenly, the reds found themselves camped in the enemy’s 22, off-loading like All Blacks in the pack and floating nice wide ball thanks to Michael Levack’s solid distribution. The breakthrough came after fifteen minutes, with quick ball left from a ruck, Stuart Campbell sucking in defenders before popping to Ali Pittendreigh, who flopped gracefully over the line for his first ever try for the Mackie 2’s. His grandfather would be proud.
Kick converted by the ever-reliable Levack, play resumed with the Red wind huffing and puffing at the Huntly line. Consecutive carries by Glen Moir, Dave Austen and ‘French Joseph’ made solid dents before Stuart Campbell blew the Huntly wall apart with a searing drive to the line, defenders deflected like leaves in a breeze. 14-0 at half-time, but now the real test was to come as the teams changed ends for the final 40 minutes of the season.
Huntly harnessed the advantage of the wind with streetwise aplomb. It was now Mackie’s turn to build a barrier on the white line, with Dean Gerrard in particular throwing in vital hits to deny a score. The ball, eventually turned over and kicked up field, remained in Huntly’s hands nonetheless. They eventually got the try they yearned, pulling a fast blind side move that evaded the attentions of Ben Newell and Kieran Ferguson to score in the corner. Game on.
Or was it? Mackie regrouped and from the restart displayed some of their best rugby of the season. Drills repeated on the training ground came to fruition as players began to uncork ten minutes of unadulterated champagne rugby. Slick interplay down the middle of the park brought in half the Huntly defence, only for man of the match Alex Thurlow to sniff a space out right, taking quick ball and spreading it wide with accurate poise, sending it through the hands for fan-favourite Frankie to score deliciously in the corner. Game over? Pretty much.
The match, much like this article, now entered it’s final, exhausted phase. The hits seemed to intensify as actual ball-play diminished. Pittendreigh was taken off with a strained shoulder, his girly shrieks of anguish heard in distant Inverbervie, while substitute Graham Mckinnon lasted an entire two minutes before receiving an elbow to the throat. With the Mackie line-out creaking but the Huntly backs unable to capitalise on the extra possession, the game stuttered to a close with a flounder rather than a flourish. It didn’t matter. It was a final win for Mackie, who honoured their veteran Paul Berrisford with a silver jubilee victory and an assured third place in the league.