Thursday 1st September 2016 marks the anniversary of a momentous day in Warriors’ history. Exactly 10 years ago Alastair David Kellock strode onto the Hughenden pitch to play his first competitive game for Glasgow. Just three months before this the club had been taken apart by Connacht in the final outing of the 2005/06 season and consigned to last place in the Celtic League.
Big Al’s signing was the first tangible step on a journey that 9 seasons and 245 matches later would see the skipper lifting the Pro 12 trophy. His side reaching a peak that would have seemed like an improbable dream back on that very first day.
The opposition when Al made his Warriors’ debut were Dave Parade’s finest – the Dragons – a tough, nuggety bunch who were to prove to be something of a bogey team for Glasgow.
This was the side on the day it all started for Captain Kellock:
With no less than 5 debutants in the starting line-up (Va’a, Newman, Kellock, Evans and Leonelli) it was clear that Sean Lineen had used the summer to make his mark on a squad that he had inherited with just a handful of games remaining in the 2005/06 season.
This group of players would provide the foundations for the Lineen and Townsend eras in Glasgow. Eleven were still in the squad for the 2009/10 season and eight would feature in the club’s very first appearance in the freshly reinstituted playoffs when the Warriors travelled to the Liberty Stadium to meet the Ospreys.
Nobody other than Al managed to make the entire journey from that first game to the Grand Final nine seasons later – although Euan Muray was a member of the 2014/15 Championship winning squad (returning for that one season after a number of years away from Glasgow) he didn’t feature in the 23 in Belfast.
It was also a side containing no fewer than 13 future Warrior Centurions (not a bad return when until last season there had only been 28 in the club’s history) and of course Glasgow’s record points scorer, Dan Parks.
John Barclay is the only one of the 22 who is still playing pro rugby ten years down the line. Another solid season with Scarlets and Scotland should see him closing in on 300 career matches, which is an awful lot of punishment to go through playing in an attritional position like openside!
The game took place at Hughenden in front of 1,663 hardy souls. In contrast the big man’s last ever home game (the playoff semi-final against Ulster) was played out in front of a sell-out crowd of 10,000 at Scotstoun.
The game itself gave hints of some of the key elements that would help revolutionise the club in the seasons to come. A coruscating, try-creating diagonal break from Thom Evans with his first touch of the ball; the youthful promise of John Barclay; a pack that had previously been a soft touch on its way to being transformed by the trio of Va’a, Newman and Kellock who wouldn’t allow anyone to take a backward step.
For 20 minutes the side put into practice everything that Sean Lineen must have drilled into them throughout the summer. The Dragons were blown away by Glasgow’s pace, power and aggression as the home team raced into a 20-0 lead. But after that first quarter it was almost as if the Warriors’ players suddenly realised what they had done and were left wondering “what now?” Give away scores. Handling errors. Missed tackles. The classics were all present and correct over the next hour as Glasgow eventually subsided to defeat with the last kick of the game. It was a huge learning experience for the players, coaches – and of course the leadership of captain Al Kellock – and they only suffered one more defeat at Hughenden that season.
If you had told those present that day what they would witness over the coming seasons and where Al Kellock would ultimately lead the club to it’s doubtful any among them would have believed you. From last to first – an unexpected journey – and throughout it all Big Al was a key figure, setting the tone during matches and on the training pitch, creating the culture on which the Warriors’ success has been built. Everyone involved in the club, but especially the fans, owe him a huge debt of gratitude and hopefully #BigAlDay allows us to celebrate what he achieved and the qualities he brought to Glasgow.
Other #BigAlDay blogs:
#BigAlDay by The Scribbler
What makes a great captain? by The Pen
Kellock Era Dream Team – Back 3
Kellock Era Dream Team – Centres
Kellock Era Dream Team – Half Backs
Kellock Era Dream Team – Front Row
Kellock Era Dream Team – Second Row
Kellock Era Dream Team – Back Row
Al Kellock was not the only significant debut that day – the referee, Peter Fitzgibbon, was also taking charge of his first ever Magners League match. Where there is Yin, there must also be Yang…