AS grand entrances go, it was something from the imagination of PT Barnum himself; the sort of sporting story that, had it been packaged as fiction, would have been dismissed as far too implausible to print.
No 8 Alasdair Mackie made his Super6 bow for the bottom-fishers Stirling County against table-topping Watsonians in the last round before the Six Nations started and his hat-trick of tries gifted the club he has represented since childhood only their second victory in the new competition, lifting them above Boroughmuir Bears into fifth spot.
He had been sidelined after tearing a pectoral muscle just four days ahead of the team’s first pre-season game. He was, the breakaway claims, in the best condition of his life.
Now he is playing catch up but, even short of a gallop, Mackie’s impact on the game was immense, carrying into the heart of the Watsonians defence and showing canny distribution when he wasn’t busy scoring tries. His Super6 bow could hardly have gone any better and he presumably treated himself to a lottery ticket after the match!
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” he says, on his lunch break as an NHS physiotherapist. “It was pretty tough but I just wanted to get back into it after watching all the boys (play) because I got injured four days before the first pre-season game. It was difficult but I couldn’t have asked for a better comeback.”
Those vital points earned against Watsonians leave the play-off door ajar for County although they have a must-win match looming this Saturday afternoon when they travel to Melrose to face a Southern Knights team that sits seven points above them in fourth, the final play-off place. A loss to the Knights would mean and end to the team’s hopes of making the shoot-out for the inaugural Super6 title, but, as Mackie points out, County still have other things to look forward to.
“I just wanted to see how far I could take it in Scotland,” says the former Dollar Academy pupil. “My mum’s a Kiwi so I may go to New Zealand at some point and test myself out there.
“That was in my thoughts and then Ben (Cairns, County head coach) approached me and so I wanted to see how far I could take it in Scotland. I was probably in the best shape I have been in for the last five years going into the season so I haven’t quite been able to show what I am capable of just yet but, yeah, I want to push myself.
“There is step up in intensity,” Mackie replies when asked about Super6. “It is full on, all the time, making us do our gym sessions, obviously I only have one game to compare, but I’d say that the intensity all round is just a step up.
“And especially the cross-border games, they are a definite attraction, we are able to challenge ourselves against other nations. Obviously, it’s a huge attraction to get to go down to Wales.”
Not everyone who travelled up and down by bus in the formative years of the Scottish/Welsh League would agree but for Super6 players a cross-border competition, even in Wales, clearly offers an added incentive.
Mackie hopes that downing the league leaders will give County a timely boost as we get to the business end of the season, pointing out that while the club were usually competitive before, the ability to get their nose over the winning line against Watsonians was a real lift for the players and coaches alike.
It probably helps that Stirling County have worked hard to retain their established identity during this new Super6 era. Mackie has been at Bridgehaugh since childhood [with a few years in exile whilst qualifying], as have the likes of prop Billy Dineen and Ewan MacGarvie, a small scrummy at schoolboy level, now a strapping wing.
All three will hope to be involved in Saturday’s must-win match against the Knights. It is effectively a knock-out round for County so has there been extra tension at training as a result?
“The way we are training at the moment is the best it’s been all season,” says the big breakaway. “It feels more together, it feels more like we are moving forwards. So I wouldn’t say there was any tension, it’s going pretty well, but the necessity to win is always there. Beating Watsonians at the top of the table gives us a bit of confidence.”
I have to ask Mackie one last question. As a fully qualified physiotherapist does he help out with his fellow players at County when extra hands are required?
“One player asked me for a massage,” he doesn’t name names. “You can imagine what I said to him!”
Yes, I probably can.