Rugby Union: Parker's final hurrah

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HE HAS been a professional footballer and an American footballer - now Gary Parker is poised to play a leading rugby role in the Tennent's Velvet Scottish Cup final at Murrayfield.

The first all-Borders final on Saturday promises to be a titanic affair - and for the Gala player-coach, Parker, an extra special occasion.

Parker played professional football with Hearts, gridiron for the Scottish Claymores and enjoyed a lengthy spell on the wing with his home-town rugby union club, Melrose. He thought Cup final action had passed him by when he was forced to miss Melrose's victorious final against Boroughmuir two years ago - and he is determined to make amends against fellow Premier Two outfit Kelso.

"I was down in London with the Claymores and I spent three hours watching the scores come up on Teletext," said Parker, whose side go into the contest as slight favourites. "It was only work commitments that stopped me from signing for the Claymores this season - and that would have meant missing out on another final."

A more unlikely American Footballer than Parker you could not wish to meet. Barely 5ft 8in and 11 stone, the chirpy winger became a kicker for the Claymores following the intervention of the legendary Scotland captain, Gavin Hastings. "Gavin was the Claymores kicker at the time and he recommended me to them," said Parker. They signed me on for two seasons and I really enjoyed myself."

The heady world of gridiron is a long way from the inter-town combat Parker will be facing in the capital as Borders rugby comes to the fore once more. After two years of Super District talks the grass-roots finally get their day in the spotlight, with a crowd of over 25,000 expected for the last Tennents-sponsored event.

There is little difference between the two sides on paper, Gala having won the final league clash between the pair to edge home in the title race.

Parker has the utmost admiration for the way Kelso have bounced back from the agony of finishing runners-up in both cup and league last season - a fate that could await them again if Gala win out on Saturday. "I have great admiration for what Kelso have achieved," said Parker. "Last year they went so close in two competitions, I didn't think they would recover. To come back the way they have is a magnificent achievement."