Byron repel Turkeys in thriller at Red Devil Park

The beatific Ryan O’Connell is embraced by Turkeys at Red Devil Park on Sunday. Photo John Campbell.

The beatific Ryan O’Connell is embraced by Turkeys at Red Devil Park on Sunday.

Story & photo John Campbell

At the beginning of Gladiator, confronted by the Germanic tribes baring their arses at the Roman legions, Quintus says to Maximus, ‘some people just don’t know when they’re beaten’.

Byron Bay’s Red Devils were perhaps of a similar mindset last Sunday afternoon. In their must-win Round Nine NRRRL clash with Kyogle, they watched in alarm as the Turkeys stormed back from 20–0 down at the break to almost steal the game.

Before an anxious crowd nearing 3,862, the home side prevailed to the tune of 30–22, but they nearly threw away a first half of creativity, exuberance and full-metal endeavour with a second forty that was virtually devoid of consolidation.   

The Bay are a side that thrives on confidence. After a stuttering season in which they have promised much but delivered little, they were at the crossroads. Did they want to take part in the finals, or were they merely there to make up the numbers?

In warm but overcast conditions, the boys started like nervous Nellies, repeatedly giving away the pill and struggling to get anywhere near their opponents’ red zone.

But then it all happened… prop Chris ‘Jawbone’ Coleman, who smashed into the line like a Sherman tank all day, made a trademark destructive run. It took him deep into Turkey territory and on the back of it, Joey ‘Flash’ Gordon, another of Byron’s best, opened the scoring with a well-deserved try. It was as if somebody had turned on the lights for the blinkered Devils.

From a scrum, Ryan ‘the Crab’ O’Connell floated a mesmerising twenty-metre pass to Hayden ‘Rupert’ Rosenbaum on the wing, who in turn beat his opposite all ends up to cross in the corner.

Kyogle were fraying at the edges and their disarray was soon compounded. O’Connell chipped into open space and the ball took an impossibly weird bounce into the arms of hooker Tyler Blanch ‘Dubois’. Blanch upped the ante with another chip and five-eighth Reece ‘Bernie’ Purcell gathered it unmarked to scamper in for a try that was part Timothy Leary, part Albert Einstein. It brought the house down.

Icing on the cake came when O’Connell handled twice in a neat wrap-around move that led to flanker Joe ‘the Red’ McCarthy sprinting away for another four-pointer.

The Devils were enjoying their footy and it was a delight to see them in such an unleashed mood.

They started promisingly after the break, but a string of penalties brought the Turkeys back into it. The men in red were sleepwalking as Kyogle, emboldened and sensing their hosts’ angst, piled on three unanswered tries. The script had been torn to shreds and, at 20–18, our worst nightmare seemed to be unfolding before our eyes.

‘Snap out of it, Byron!’ came the call from the bleachers, but Kyogle, with a glut of possession, continued to press.  

The turning point came when fullback Brad ‘Bruce’ Lees, ever reliable, made a desperate save by collecting the ball on the line before a handful of greedy Turkeys gobbled it up.

Byron settled, Coleman was rewarded for his gut-busting effort with a try and, even though the Turkeys still had enough in the tank to reduce it to 26–22 with three to go, a barnstorming run from Gordon set up Rosenbaum for the killer blow that will keep the Devils in the premiership hunt.  

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