IN THE end the glorious finale wasn’t to be but perhaps the most fitting testament to Bevan Lynch’s tenure as City of Derry Head Coach is that he had us believing it could be in the first place!
Michael Wilson was at Judges Road
Photographs: Phil Gamble
After all, this was a Derry team languishing in the bottom four at the turn of the year, a team that seemed to be struggling to make their mark in what is still their first season in Division 2A. However Lynch’s arrival four years ago changed the mentality. Hope has been exchanged for expectation. How else do you explain the biggest crowd of the season at Judges Road?
So many times during his memorable term as Head coach, Derry have defied the odds. A last gasp Irish Junior Cup win. Last season’s final day heroics to clinch the AIL Division Three title. So when Derry went on the ten game winning streak that took them to within three points of second spot it was simply business as usual and that mentality is down to Lynch and his coaching team,
But the disappointment of Saturday’s 24-7 defeat to a John Creighton inspired Malone will soon dissipate and then the true test of what Lynch himself believes is still an ongoing process will begin in earnest. Not in the Head Coach’s final game, away to Queens on April 14th but rather when Mark Nicholl and his new coaching team take over in the summer.
Nicholl has been a fundamental part of the success story that brought successive promotions from Junior Rugby to the brink of Irish rugby’s second tier. Neither he nor Lynch believe City of Derry have yet seen the best of this group of players. No, the true test will be to make sure everyone maintains the belief that that potential can be achieved at Judges Road.
And there is no reason why they should think otherwise even if the weekend result means it is Malone who now go into the final day with promotion almost within their grasp
The 24-7 victory, which turned on a second half yellow card for Derry centre David Funston, keeps the Belfast men second but with Queens picking up a bonus point Midleton, only a scoring difference of seven now separates the city clubs.
Malone will hope Derry can pick themselves up for a final day trip to Queens as they take on Seapoint at Gibson Park knowing if they equal or better the Students’ result they will be promoted and on Saturday’s display, you couldn’t say they don’t deserve it.
With 19-year-old Creighton conducting affairs at the heart of an ominous start for Derry, Malone’s Josh Pentland had already passed up one very kickable penalty from in front of the posts before Malone took the lead on 13 minutes. With Derry too often guilty of kicking possession away, visiting centre Johnny Burgess was able to find space down the right flank before stepping inside Peter Henderson’s poor tackle to run in from 30m with Pentland converting.
However, Malone’s insistence on running rugby came back to haunt them on 28 minutes when they opted against kicking an easy 10m penalty. Instead the ball was quickly moved right but a loose final pass allowed Derry’s Chris Barbour to intercept and drive deep into Malone territory. He was eventually stopped but still able to off-load to the supporting Colin Mitchell who in turn fed William McCleery to run in under the posts. With Peoples converting the sides went into the break at 7-7.
Pivotal Yellow card
Derry started the second period on the front foot and were looking the more likely to score before the game’s pivotal moment arrived on 52 minutes. With the home side pressing, Funston caught danger man Creighton late after the out-half had kicked clear from deep inside his own ’22 and Malone took full advantage of the extra man.
Inside 60 seconds, a superb run and off-load from Cory Tipping set up Burgess for his second try which Pentland again converted before hitting a 67th minute penalty to put his side 17-7 ahead and into cruise control.
Malone made the game safe with another fantastic running try which typified a display full of energy and excellent handling skills. Scrum-half Shane Kelly showed great footwork to break the Derry line on half-way before feeding Burgess who set up Michael Barker to touch down in the corner. Pentland’s conversion merely confirmed the anti-climax for Lynch and his players but the Derry coach had few complaints.
“Malone were very accurate,” he admitted, “They took all their chances and, like I said before the game, if we stayed calm and took our chances we could get the result we were after but unfortunately we had a lot of unforced knock-ons. We didn’t play clever and crucially got someone yellow-carded. That cost us, it was the turning point in the game.
“We didn’t deserve to win. Our set-piece was good and we had enough possession but what we did with it wasn’t good enough. We didn’t play with the structure I would like to see or create any real space. It was all pretty forced.
“Their composition at breakdown was good and the played a nice brand of rugby, fair play to them, they deserved it. Malone got the ball out into the channels where we wanted to get it. We struggled to manufacture any quick ball because we didn’t bring enough intensity at ruck time.”
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, Chris Cooper, Stephen Corr, Richard Baird, Stephen Ferguson, Andrew Semple, Richard Peoples, Chris Barbour, David Funston, Ryan Campbell, William McCleery, Peter Henderson. (Replacements) Davy Witherow, Stephen Duffy, Colin Mitchell, Adam Bratton, Simon Logue.
Malone: Lee Barlow, Daryl Maxwell, Chris Taylor, Cory Topping, Matt Hadden, James McAllister, Neil Alcorn, Glenn Moore, Shane Kelly, John Creighton, Chris Leathem, Josh Pentland, Johnny Burgess, Michael Barker, Taylor Acheson. (Replacements) Austen Blackburn, Ali Coulsen, Peter Rodgers, John Ogilby, Shandon Scott.
Referee: Nigel Correll (IRFU)