LOCAL derbies are occasions on which players and indeed supporters take the opportunity to raise their game before looking forward to the next clash of the clubs.
But for Aberdeen Grammar and Highland, Saturday’s game between the two old rivals was a derby with a difference with relegation for the Rubislaw side being a distinct possibility before a ball was kicked in anger.
Needing to win their last four remaining games in National League One, Grammar faced a mountain, while Highland who are chasing a possible top four place in this most competitive of leagues could afford to be more relaxed about the outcome.
In the event, Grammar were relegated but not before they had given a good account of themselves, while the Inverness side chose not to show the form which has taken them to a challenging position in the top amateur league in the country.
But then you might ask, why did the Aberdeen side end up on the losing side?
The answer came in the assessment of the Grammar performance by captain and centre Tom Aplin. “Once again when we got our noses in front, we imploded. It’s the story of our season,” said the dismayed and disappointed skipper who is likely to hang up his boots at the end of the campaign but still serve the club in some capacity.
“In the meantime there is the small matter of three games to be played before the season ends. Games at Biggar and Watsonians will test our attitude, as will the home game with Gala, but they are still big games, especially for our young members at the club who will be the basis of next season’s team,” added, Aplin who will play his 100th game for Grammar when they take on Gala on April 15th.
For chairman, Gordon Thomson, it was a painful experience, as he ruefully reflected on a game that had got away from his team. “Had we taken our chances and made our tackles, we might well have won, but as it is we now have to take a fresh guard, while bringing in the many youngsters we have and build round the experienced players who elect to stay on,” he said.
A view supported by his director of rugby Kevin Burnett. “It’s been a disappointing season, though I firmly believe we have the talent to successfully rebuild. Take, for example, the performance of winger Ben Renton who scored a hat trick of tries today against one of best teams in the league, and there others whose confidence needs to be rebuilt in months ahead,” said the former Rubislaw player.
Jack Burnett, the club captain who came off the bench to join the fray, was visibly upset by the circumstances of being relegated but still upbeat. “There’s still a spirit in the squad which we need to carry into the last three games of the season,” he said.
Meanwhile, Davie Carson, the Highland head coach, was sympathetic to the Rubislaw side’s plight.
“It is vital for rugby in the north and north-east that we have teams pushing for honours in the club game. Grammar are key players if we are to deliver,” said a man who knows more about comebacks than most, having taken Highland from the depths of despair in 2012 when the club languished in Caley 2 North, and delivering them through four leagues to become one of the most respected clubs in Scotland, enabling it to celebrate a 100 years of playing the game last season in style.
So, while there was some gloom around Rubislaw after a second consecutive relegation, the mood could lighten when Grammar square up to having a new local derby in the form of Gordonians, who have gone unbeaten in 17 games in National League and are poised to return to National League Two after being relegated last season.
One derby lost but with another looming on the horizon, the future of a club who once were pushing to win the Premiership, two decades ago, need not be bleak.
After 130 years of playing the game at Rubislaw, this is certainly no time to be calling time on a great club who have achieved so much in the intervening years.
- Jack Nixon has announced that he is stepping down as rugby reporter for the Press and Journal on 8th May after 26 years of service, shining a light on club rugby in the north and north-east. The Offside Line was delighted to learn that he will continue to contribute to our website.