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Gala day or Rose-tinted success?

Whatever happens during today's eagerly-awaited climax to the RBS Premiership, there is only one certainty:

Melrose's John Dalziel hopes to steal the championship from his  fellow Galashiels native George Graham. Picture: Sammy Turner/SNS/SRU
Melrose's John Dalziel hopes to steal the championship from his fellow Galashiels native George Graham. Picture: Sammy Turner/SNS/SRU

the title-winning coach will hail from Galashiels.

Everything else, however, is up for grabs between the current leaders, Gala, who have the former Scotland prop George Graham as their mentor, and second-placed Melrose, with John Dalziel's side needing to beat Currie at the Greenyards and hope their rivals come a cropper at home to Ayr.

According to Graham, there are around nine different permutations if his side are beaten by the outgoing champions from Millbrae, but this redoubtable character is determined to ensure calculators are not required.

"It's more than 30 years since we won the championship, so we can't afford to worry about this or that permutation, because if we win, nothing else matters," said Graham, who is a former confrere of Dalziel and regards him as a "smashing bloke", a feeling that is reciprocated.

"If we had beaten Melrose earlier in the campaign the title would already be wrapped up. But we didn't and I have told the boys they can't afford to play for just 40 minutes or they will be in trouble.

"They can be a strange bunch of guys. Sometimes, it is almost as if they need me to lose the plot at the interval before they go out and start blowing away opponents.

"But we know we can't afford that sort of mentality against Ayr, who have given us some tremendous battles in recent years. To some extent, they have nothing to gain as whatever happens they will finish fourth and be in the British & Irish Cup next season.

"Yet, equally, they are a proud club, they are bringing a strong side down to Netherdale and it might be the spur of stopping us becoming champions will motivate them to play out of their skins.

"We can't control their mindset. We have to focus on how we perform and giving a big crowd [Graham expects 3000 fans to watch the match] the prize they have waited for for so long."

Dalziel recognises that he needs the Millbrae men to do him a favour, but he was more interested in talking about the job of tackling Currie than indulging in hypotheticals.

After all, Melrose have hoovered up so many prizes they are accustomed to these pressure situations. Gala, in contrast, are not and Dalziel is only too aware of what can transpire when clubs stand on the threshold of history.

"Sometimes the closer you get to a prize, the more difficult it is to finish off the job, but we have enough on our plate with Currie without worrying what is going on a few miles along the road," he said.

"They have been one of the form teams in the last couple of months and have put in some seriously impressive performances, so they have to be our sole priority because we can't influence events elsewhere. From my perspective it has been a successful season because we were sixth last time around; we were in transition and Chick [Craig Chalmers] had left after winning a whole lot of silverware.

"But if there has been a problem, it is that we haven't picked up enough losing bonus points. We have won more games than anybody else, but we haven't got anything from those we have lost and that could make the difference in the final analysis.

"Gala are favourites,] of course they are, and George deserves immense credit for the job he has done in bringing them up to the top flight and now pushing them towards the title.

"But nothing has been decided yet and we have to do all we can to keep the pressure on them"

Graham acknowledges there will be nerves around his squad and he is clearly gutted that his son, also George, will miss the denouement through injury. But he isn't one of life's great sentimentalists.

"I'm gutted for the boy, as I would be for anybody else, but my attention has to be on those who are pulling on a Gala jersey," Graham said. "Some people are coming out with claims that we deserve the title for all the work we have put in but to me, that is a lot of nonsense.

"We have no God-given right to win anything. We have to do it where it matters and that means playing at our peak for 80 minutes . . . no, actually make that 90 minutes."

Graham is no cock-eyed optimist. But the ball is firmly in Gala's court.

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