Apr 27 2012 by Mike WIlson, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
ZERO. Nix. Nada. Nothing.
That is what Ayr have come up with in terms of trophies this time around after a display against Gala in the RBS Cup final at Murrayfield which was a snapshot of their entire season, writes Ron Evans.
Occasional flashes of quality and even rarer sightings of brilliance were surrounded by spells of mediocrity which has allowed teams who would have been blown away a couple of seasons ago to establish a superiority over Ayr which was at times embarrassing.
Quoted here last week Ayr skipper Mark Stewart emphasised that 'defence wins games'. He forgot to mention the other 'D' word – discipline.
Against Gala in the league at Millbrae a couple of weeks ago, Ayr's indiscipline cost them dear as they not only allowed Lee Miller a field day with his goal kicking, they repeatedly fell foul of the referee to their cost.
You would think that a side with the experience of Ayr would take that lesson on board.
But no, they showed an aptitude for not learning from their indiscretions which was frightening as they managed to have three players yellow carded and had two in the bin at the same time putting themselves in an impossible position against a Gala side they were hardly dominating while they had a full complement on the park.
Having said that, referee James Matthews had a poor afternoon and the only thing in his favour was his ability to equally frustrate both sides.
In particular, his refereeing of the breakdown was puzzling to say the least while his eccentric hand signals were straight from an episode of Mr Bean.
Ayr have been lauded and rightly so for the way they have embraced Scottish club rugby's development at the top level but there were elements in Saturday as a whole both on and of the pitch which suggests that an eye has been taken off the ball, not in an irrevocable way but in a way which must be looked upon as a wake up call if what has happened this season is to be regarded only as a blip and not an enduring problem
There were signs early on that it was not to be Ayr's day after a first minute line-out five metres from the Gala line resulted in a penalty to the borderers and with play transferred to their territory, after a massive shunt at the first scrum heaved Ayr off their own ball, they got themselves off side and Lee Miller slotted the penalty.
At least the Ayr defence was much more solid than it had been in the previous meeting of these two and when they produced a 20 metre driving maul – the only area in which they were in any way superior – it resulted in the chance for Ross Curle to get them on board and a sweetly struck penalty levelled the scores.
Gala dominated territory and possession for the next 10 minutes, a penalty should have eased the pressure but Robbie Fergusson's kick missed touch and Ayr were back under the cosh, a situation compounded by the sin-binning of Curle.
This was apparently a 'team penalty' when the referee had warned that the next Ayr offence, no matter what or by whom would result in the bin beckoning.
This seems to me to be a cop out for referees who find themselves binning a player for what can be an inadvertent or innocuous offence thus skewing the balance of the game.
Evan a man short, Ayr enforced their best turnover of the half then proceeded to give the ball away cheaply, Opeta Palepoi surged up the middle and speedster Craig Robertson scampered over for the opening try.
Gala prop Ewan McQuillan was the next player to go to the bad boys’ room and Ayr took similar advantage banging the penalty into the Gala red zone and finishing off with Denford Mutamangira crashing over for Fergusson to pop over the conversion and tie the scores at 10-10 at the break.
Into the second half, Gala had the chance to take the lead, Miller hit the bar, found themselves penalised on the Ayr five meter line but back in the box seat after Andy Wilson, on for Steve Manning, clumsily took out Andy McLean in the air off Murray McConnell's box kick to collect the second yellow card. Gala pumped up the pressure.
The Ayr defence held until Russell Anderson burst a couple of tackles forcing them to defend desperately until Stuart Fenwick's yellow card reduced Ayr to 13 men and handed Gala the lead when Miller kicked the simple penalty. The seven man Ayr scrum was under huge pressure and four minutes later conceded the inevitable penalty and equally inevitably Miller goaled to stretch the lead to six points and with 14 minutes remaining, the Gala stand-off claimed his fourth penalty with the game now fast slipping away.
Gala were completely in control, Miller and his pack were running the show and Ayr needed two scores to go ahead but six minutes from time it was McQuillan, making up for his earlier indiscretion, who barrelled over for the try which made the final stages a celebration countdown for the Netherdale men and their supporters.
The final whistle went with Ayr utterly dejected, disappointed and in despair.
Coach Kenny Murray admitted: “We were second best in almost everyaspect of the game. It has to be said that some of our players simply didn't turn up today, we made some poor decisions and it really showed how we have struggled with the No10 position all season.
“Gala controlled the game well throughout and played the way they wanted to play which allowed Lee Miller to have an outstanding game.
“Yet again despite having hammered it home to the players, discipline was our achilles heel because we finished the first half well then threw it away with exactly the sort of discipline errors we had talked about avoiding.
“All credit to Gala who have probably been the outstanding team in Premier One this season and deserve their league position and played exactly the right game to win the cup.
“We now have to look to next season and again we will have to refresh the squad since we have players leaving the club and retiring so it will take a lot of work to get back to where we, our players and our supporters expect Ayr to be.”
Club president Billy McHarg summed up the game succinctly. “I don't blame the players who gave their best but those who left us playing for almost 30 minutes in a cup final with only 14 men have to have hard look at themselves in the mirror.”
So a sad and disappointing end to what has been a frustrating, and by their own standards, unfulfilled season for Ayr.
Next week, we will have a look back at what went wrong and perhaps some thoughts about what can be done to improve on that next term.