GAVIN DOUGLAS thought it was going to be the end of the road last summer, but after a disappointing conclusion to a generally promising campaign with Hawick Harlequins, he couldn’t quite bring himself to let it go.
And when pushed, the stand-off admits he knew (even before three consecutive losses scuppered the club’s chances of a league and Shield double) that he wasn’t quite ready at that stage to hang up the old boots.
This time he insists that he knows his mind. Win, lose or draw against Carrick in Saturday’s National Shield Final on the main pitch at Murrayfield, he won’t be persuaded to extend his adult playing career into a 23rd season.
“I just didn’t want to leave it like that. I knew we were on the up. I believed we could win the league and get to Murrayfield this year – and we’ve done both. So now I can finish knowing that as a team we have achieved what we set out to do,” he explains.
“It’s good when you set a goal and you go out and achieve it. Nobody has spoken about winning on Saturday, it is about doing ourselves justice and coming off the field knowing that we gave it our best shot. As long as we give a good account of ourselves it will be a good day.
“And it will be a good night back at the Quins[clubrooms] either way – although it will be a wee bit better if we have the Shield with us!”
For Douglas, it will be the end of one of Scottish club rugby’s more colourful playing careers.
After graduating from Hawick Wanderers [under-18 side] in 1996, he spent one year playing for ‘the Quins’ before being drafted into the recently formed Hawick 2nd XV squad, where he spent another campaign before finally earning his spurs with the town’s top team during the 1998-99 season.
“The thing I remember is Scotty Welsh played a few games for the 2nd XV and it was great to be playing with boys like that,” recalls Douglas. “You don’t get that these days – junior boys getting to play with legends of the game … well, local legends, anyway.”
He is doing himself a disservice here. Welsh was a star of the Hawick side which won the first ever Scottish Cup in 1996, playing alongside the likes of Tony Stanger, Cammy Murray and Jim Hay – but Douglas has a prestigious position of his own in the town’s rich rugby history.
The ugliest drop-goal ever
He was a key member of the Greens side – also containing future internationalists Nikki Walker and Scott MacLeod – which claimed back-to-back championship titles in 2001 and 2002, picking up the cup as well in the second of those years. In fact, it was Douglas who kicked the extra-time drop-goal which clinched the second leg of that double in a thrilling Murrayfield showdown against Glasgow Hawks.
“That was a highlight and a lowlight because, as my pals keep reminding me, it was the ugliest drop-goal anyone has ever seen,” he chuckles.
“I remember getting the ball at inside-centre with a line of Hawks forwards in front of me, and I was only about 11 stone at the time, so I thought: ‘F@ck it, I’m going to have a pop at this.’ I was kind of on the run and I just stopped and kicked it – which probably contributed to it being like it was.”
The ball wobbled over, and Douglas was the toast of Hawick. But the club struggled to sustain the momentum which had built to that Murrayfield crescendo and by 2007 he was turning out for Edinburgh Academicals whilst living and working in the central belt.
The Raeburn Place outfit were in the process of climbing from the third to the top flight of Scottish rugby after several years in the doldrums, and that season they not only finished runners-up in Premier Two [as it was then known] but also defeated Currie, Hawick and Boroughmuir on their way to a cup final appearance against Glasgow Hawks.
“That cup run was memorable but the final itself was disappointing,” recalls Douglas. “My pal Marshy [Alastair Marsh – another exiled Hawick man in the Accies side at that time] got married that day, so I was at the wedding in the morning then rushed up to Murrayfield, jumped out the car and was straight into the warm-up. I just didn’t have time to take it all in. It kind of passed me by.
“Marshy was flown up from Hawick by helicopter for the game, and I think it was a distraction for all the boys. I’ll always blame Marshy for losing that one [24-13],” he mischievously adds. “Then we were straight back down to Hawick for the reception – so it kind of came and went in a blur.
“I scored a drop-goal in that final as well and it was a much better than the one for Hawick – but nobody remembers it.”
Douglas now has a chance to clinch a 2-1 winning record from final appearances at Murrayfield before he disappears into the night, and he is not the only member of the Harlequins team looking to finish on a high.
He is one of five old pals – all in or approaching their 40th year on this planet – finally calling it quits. Neil Douglas, Rikki Kiori and Alan Douglas [the Douglas’s are not related] will be playing on Saturday, while Fred Stevenson will be a frustrated spectator, having ruptured his Achilles earlier in the season.
“That’s a tough one because Fred has been a great servant to the club for years – both on and off the field. He deserved a better ending to his playing days than that,” says Douglas.
Former club captain Ross Anderson, who is not in the same geriatric bracket, is also retiring due to family and work commitments.
The loss of so many senior players is one of the key factors behind the club’s decision to inform the SRU that they do not wish to accept promotion out of East League One and into National League Three next season.
“From the outside, it probably looks like a lack of ambition, but we have to be realistic. I said at one meeting that if we were keeping the same squad and adding a few bodies to it then I’d love to have a go at it, but that’s not the reality,” explains Douglas.
“The time is right for all the older ones to finish – we couldn’t go another year – and at the moment all the under-18s in Hawick are being funnelled down to Mansfield Park, so it’s not going to be easy to fill the gaps.
“Plus, a lot of our boys have to work Saturday mornings, and going away to places like Orkney, Highland and Gordonians with weakened teams to get hammered isn’t going to be good for us, it isn’t going to be good for the opposition and it isn’t going to be good for Scottish rugby.”
All of which adds extra significance to Saturday’s match for the Harlequins of Hawick. Their opponents are in the hunt for a third consecutive National Shield success – but Douglas and his team-mates have a fair idea of what they are up against, having lost to the Maybole men at the semi-final stage of last year’s competition.
“I wouldn’t take anything away from Carrick – they are a really good side and deserved their win – but we felt we didn’t really have a crack at it. We lost something like our first seven line-outs and were defending the whole first half, but we were still in it at the break, only to let the game get away from us in the second half,” he says.
“I fancy our chances if we can win some ball and make use of the wide pitch, because I think we’ve got a back three which can thrive if we get them in space at the right time.
“If we turn up with the same mentality and intensity as we did in the other big games we’ve played this year – against North Berwick and Barnton – then we’ve definitely got a chance.”
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