Difficult post to write this as I know there was huge disappointment at the end of the latest game involving one of my previously photographed teams, Harrogate Ladies. Much improved from last season, playing in the North East One League, the team had gone through ten games undefeated to top the table at season's end.
This led them into a promotion play-off against their North West equivalent, Didsbury, to see who would progress up the league ladder. The play-off took place at the home of Barnsley Rugby Club, which looked splendid on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon.
Comments from the Harrogate coach beforehand proved prophetic as he mentioned that Didsbury's strength lay in the speed of their backs. This was not apparent in the first phases and Harrogate supporters breathed a little more easily as the Rudding Park side scored first under the posts. But there was a long long way to go.
I think it would be safe to say that the rest of the half belonged to Didsbury, certainly in terms of scoring. Harrogate were better organised, winning most lineouts and scrums, but there was just no dealing with the pace offered by the Lancashire backs. By the end of the first forty they'd scored no fewer than three tries without reply, becoming stronger with each play, and it looked like the result was a foregone conclusion.
In some ways the final score would have been less cruel for Harrogate if that pattern had continued. They'd have had forty minutes to get used to the idea of defeat. But this team had not tasted losing all season and they were not prepared to begin doing so at that stage. The comeback they mounted was a joy to witness and a credit to all who took part.
One try went over and we were thinking in consolation terms. When the second one happened we began to think of an upset. By the time the third one went over a victory was most possible. Throughout the time of this comeback Didsbury had faltered to some extent but their threat was always present. When they scored in the closing minutes with a converted try I must admit I'd lost count of the score but actually there was just one point in it, in favour of the Lancashire side.
Harrogate then did all they could to get back up the field but, as often happens in times of such pressure, errors crept in, passes went down and time ran out. The final score was 34-33. At the time this seemed the cruellest of outcomes for Harrogate. To have worked so hard and got so near…
But now, almost a week later, I hope they'll be extremely proud of their performance. They didn't give in and almost achieved a victory when it seemed most unlikely half way through the game. As I've read on their Twitter feed from the Harrogate Advertiser, they'll come out of the experience stronger. There's such a great team spirit at Harrogate Ladies; success is bound to follow. Harrogate Rugby Club should be extremely proud of them too. Well done to Didsbury also. They rode out the storm and emerged on top. Good luck to them next season in their new league. The light was good, the action was gripping so there are many pictures to see here. Beware. There are tears.