A Characterful performance.
Heath 3rds travelled to Keighley in a buoyant mood, having secured a strong side, despite some early cry offs. On arrival, it became clear that with no first or second team home fixture, they would be playing on the main pitch, which looked in good condition. Unfortunately, that perception changed once they took to the field. The ground was very heavy and sanded in large areas throughout.
The Heath line up was, HAMMOND, CRAIGON and FISHER in the front row. KERR and SYKES in the second row with JAMES at number 8. NELSON and PIDGEON on the flanks. LYONS and INGHAM (captain) were at 9 & 10 respectively, and SHAW, GALVIN, KERSHAW and ALLINSON in the backs. Young Matt COOK took to the field as full back.
The prematch team talk highlighted that the Heath pack were clearly lighter than Keighley, but that said we would be more mobile and able to cover and support to better advantage. It was also pointed out that during this game Heath would defend and support each other, and when opportunity arose, attack with support using the speed of the backs. Simple you might have thought, but in previous games we had left ourselves exposed by defending in ones & twos, and being turned over, and then attacking too slowly and not exposing gaps and opportunities.
From the kick off it became clear that the afternoon was going to be about big hits, intense mauls and rucks, and those that weren't up to the task should leave the field now. To a man Heath challenged and battled Keighley in every department. Several interchanges resulted in valuable ground being obtained by Heath, and good confident instruction from John LYONS controlled the Heath pack to drive on or open up to the backs for ball to hand.
Martin SHAW (BASH) and Carl GALVIN paired up well and took good ball into the Keighley throng. Time and time again this was released to KERSH and new man John ALLINSON on the wing who were happy to gain further ground, and also take the hits that were inevitably coming their way. Further good support play from NELSON, SYKES and JAMES resulted in good clear out ball and the basis for further Heath forays. COOK demonstrated his concentration and notable ability by ensuring he was positioned correctly throughout and swept up Keighley kicks confidently, kicking to great effect & length himself and relieving pressure from the Keighley onslaught.
The tackle-count in the first half read, 303 to Keighley and 675 to Heath. We were in no doubt that the battle was on. Good pressure from Heath was rewarded with a penalty for consistent handling in the ruck by the Keighley number 6, 5 yards inside the Keighley half. INGHAM chose to kick for the points and give Heath a much-deserved lead. Although well hit, the heavy pitch didn't add a great deal of assistance to him, and the ball dropped 5 yards short of the posts. The Keighley number 10 promptly collected it and from the 22, launched the ball back into the Heath half and the onslaught continued. The last 10 minutes of the first half was all Keighley in the Heath 22 - wave after wave of attack appeared to recycle the ball and drive on again. Absolute resolute defending was a pleasure to see. No less than 5 tryline drives were attempted by Keighley only to be held up by HAMMOND, CRAIGON, FISHER and SYKES. A change of tactic by Keighley saw the ball spiralling out to their backs only to be hit hard by BASH, GALVIN and NELSON. Excellent.
With a few minutes to hold out, INGHAM was penalised 10 yards from the Heath line for tackling the Keighley centre and not rolling away quickly enough. It was pointed out to the referee, to no avail, that he could have been a little more lenient, as it had taken us 16 months to get Dan to do any tackle at all. The resulting penalty was run by Keighley, and the defensive stand off resumed. In desperation, the Keighley number 8 took it upon himself to pick up the ball from the bottom of the ruck and launch himself skyward up and over the mass of players, completing the 5 yard distance with the ball in both of his hands almost in the style of Peyton Manning of the New Orleans Saints in Sunday’s Superbowl final . . . . . TOUCHDOWN !!!!!! The band appeared and played Dixie, the cheerleaders danced and twirled their pom poms, hot dog sellers called out to the families in the crowd , but NO TRY!
The whistle finally sounded for the completion of the first half, and an opportunity for Heath to take on fluid, refine our tactics and have 10 minutes reprieve. There were fish and chip shops in Silsden and Ilkley that had taken on less battering than we had. The reality though was that the score was 0 - 0, and in the style of the Pepperami character, "come back again and we'll bite yer legs off".
The second half continued where the first half left off, Keighley attack, Heath defend, Heath win the ball back and drive onwards, Keighley defend, win the ball back and drive back into the Heath throng. The History channel could have filmed this game as a re-enactment of the First World war, "Battle for the trenches. 10 minutes into the second half KERR tackled the Keighley prop, only to be hit again by the Keighley flanker. To continue the metaphors, KERR re-enacted the taking of Iwo Jima in the second World war, being shot by a Japanese sniper and going to ground faster than a Meerkat on a promise ! Off he went to be replaced by Paul SHAW.
The war of attrition continued, with neither side prepared to give ground. With 20 minutes to go, however, the Keighley forwards were awarded another penalty for handling in the ruck, 22 yards out from the Heath posts. It was converted and the score zoomed to 3-0, after 60 minutes the score was only 3-0 ???? SYKES was then replaced by Jimmy LI, and shortly afterwards the snapping noise of rubber band was heard and SHAW limped from the field of play with a torn groin muscle. He was replaced by Stewart LAWLOR
Ironically, the penalty seemed to boost Heath, and an immediate impact from LAWLOR saw him steal and present a couple of Keighley lineouts, setting up LYONS to deliver the ball out to BASH and GALVIN who continued to be our greatest chance to expose tired legs in the Keighley line. But, as is often the case, a moment of misfortune resulted in Heath undoing. PIDGEON was raised on a Keighley line out, appeared to have stolen the ball, only to be unfairly challenged off the ground by the Keighley lineout. On another day, this may have resulted in benefit to Heath, today it didn't. Quick hands from Keighley released their back line, and ultimately scored between the posts, which was converted.
Heath picked themselves up (literally) and took to battle again. HAMMOND was replaced by Steve BEECROFT, resplendent in his new Heath shorts stitched with cotton made of gold and fabric made of emeralds, a lot of gold and emeralds as it happened, but resplendent anyway.
From the kick off, the lads were full of drive "and we can do this" was heard, only to be brought to a grinding halt with BASH going to ground following a tackle. The Keighley players alerted the ref to a problem and it was quickly ascertained that BASH had dislocated his left knee. With 5 minutes left the ref blew the final whistle in order to await the expectant ambulance. It is credit to the Lads' attitude that we were prepared to play round BASH or at the very least call it a draw. A draw would have been unfair to Keighley though, who on the balance deserved their narrow but well earned victory.
Our thanks go to the Keighley number 9 and club firstaid’er, who dealt with BASH speedily and professionally and the club for providing a good game, good facilities and not only one choice of after match refreshment but three. Also to the Keighley committee member who assured us that should BASH need a taxi back to Halifax the club would accommodate that at their expense.
As it happened, the Airedale Hospital dealt with BASH in the manner expected and released him at 9pm with a patella in the right place, a jazzy splint and crutches. BASH would also like to thank the West Yorkshire police lady, apparently an ex can can dancer in Paris in her younger years (although she couldn't have been a day over 25) who kept him entertained with her tales of daring do !!!