Story & photos John Campbell
Perhaps in expectation of a big effort from the Bay after the shambles at Casino, an estimated bumper crowd of 4,157 turned up at Red Devil Park on Sunday to see the home side redeem themselves.
And it was as well that they did, for it was a ball-tearer of a game, with the boys beating the more fancied Northern United by 23–12 in a high-stakes, high-energy NRRRL clash.
The team effort was unstinting across the board, but it was Byron’s wily captain, Ryan ‘the Crab’ O’Connell, who was there to make the difference when it mattered, racking up three tries at critical moments.
The first, after ten minutes, came when he feigned to pass to the open side from dummy-half but scuttled over on the blind. Joey ‘Flash’ Gordon’s fantastic sideline conversion gave Byron exactly the confidence-boosting start they needed.
The battle was then waged on different fronts. The Dirrawongs wanted to go wide at every opportunity and the Devils took a more conservative, steady-as-she-goes approach. Against the run of play, Bill ‘the Lion’ King latched on to a loose pass to sprint 80 metres and put the visitors on the board, but the setback seemed to strengthen Byron’s resolve rather than undermine it.
Possession and penalties favoured United, but the Devils’ tackling was up to everything that was thrown at it. The stalemate was broken when Brad ‘Bruce’ Lees made one of his trademark blockbusting runs, on the back of which O’Connell cannily found his way over the chalk, again from dummy-half.
A 12–6 lead at the break would not be enough to take the spoils, but it was fair reward, and the Devils are the sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde outfit that thrive on the prospect of converting promise to triumph – of chasing Benny Elias’s famous ‘carrot at the end of the rainbow’.
United ambled back from the sheds like Brown’s cows. If they counted on Byron crumbling before them they were quickly shaken out of such expectation. Like a politician’s suit, the Devils were all over them and, as the skies darkened, the partisans on the western hill started to make their vocal presence felt.
A couple of the club’s young guns on debut in A-grade – five-eighth Beau ‘Geste’ Clark and centre Toby ‘Tyler’ Ryan – combined for a try and United responded in quick time, but when Gordon, suave as Cary Grant in a dinner suit, slotted a field-goal for 19–12, we all breathed a sigh of relief.
The lights were on as heavy dark clouds rolled over Red Devil Park. Byron had showed the faithful what they are capable of when the gauntlet is hurled at their feet.
The boys’ defence was epic and their absolute will to win palpable. You could tell that United felt it too.
All that was left was for O’Connell to make one of his twist-and-turn, jink-and-weave runs to the line for his third try.
Well done, Devils – you’re the real deal.