All Ireland League Division 2B
City of Derry 16, Dungannon 15
It took until the last day of the 2016 but City of Derry have finally registered their first win of the season with a fantastic, battling New Year’s Eve victory over Dungannon in horrible conditions at Judges Road.
The morale boosting victory lifts Derry off the foot of the AIL Division 2B table on points difference from Thomond and gives Terry McMaster something to build on when he rejoins Richard McCarter’s coaching team for the second half of the season.
Dungannon remain sixth but will see this as an opportunity missed. A win would have lifted them into the top four and they came perilously close to getting it when Stephen Todd’s 85th minute try brought the game back to a single point but the difficult touchline conversion was missed and Derry survived.
No one could say they didn’t deserve it though.
Strengthened considerably by the return of scrum half Andrew Semple and centre David Funston, both of whom were excellent, this was a different Derry side from the one that struggled in the early stages of the season.
More coherent, the home defence was brilliant and their set pieces superb and while Dungannon enjoyed the upper hand at scrum time, this was an Ulster derby in the best sense of the word.
Derry also gave a First XV debut to Letterkenny teen Joe Dunleavy who has already played for Ulster Under 18s and it was easy to see why so many rate the flanker who belied his tender years with some superb carries and big tackles.
Yet even he had to play second fiddle to Neil Burns. Burns scored 16 and Derry scored 16 with the full-back’s sublime second half try straight off the training pitch and proving the winning of the game.
With the wind and driving rain sweeping across Judges Road, Dungannon took what advantage there was in the opening half but it was Derry who started stronger. The visitors’ cause wasn’t helped when the lost scrum-half Jack Reavey to injury after only nine minutes.
Burns got the scoreboard moving in the 14th minute with a penalty after sustained home pressure but the rest of the half belonged to Dungannon who should have went in further ahead than their eventual 3-7 interval lead.
‘Gannon looked certain to score 22 minutes in when a loose clearing kick was seized on and the ball worked through to David Leyburn who was only stopped by a brilliant last ditch Richard Baird tackle.
However, the visitors would not be denied and were eventually award a penalty try and camping out on the Derry line and forcing a series of penalties. Jake Finlay converted for a four point lead.
The second half began with Burns and Funston combining to take play from the Derry ‘22 to the Dungannon one in a move that ended with Burns scoring his second penalty of the game for 6-7.
Sixteens minutes in, it got even better for Derry when Funston’s initial break got the home side into the attacking third. With play moving right to left, Semple reversed a superb dummy pass into the path of Burns who joined the line at pace to break the ‘Gannon defensive line and run in for a try which he converted himself.
The visitors responded with another Finlay penalty and despite the loss of hooker Jamie McNeill to a yellow card, the remaining 20 minutes was about Dungannon pressure and defiant Derry defence.
Indeed when the home side broke out long enough for Burns to extend their lead to 16-10 from his third penalty it looked game over but there was still time, some eight added minutes worth, in which Todd’s barged his way over.
However, with the touchline conversion went Dungannon’s last hope and City of Derry’s season is up and running at long last. If they continue to produce this level of performance it won’t be long until it is travelling at speed again.
City of Derry: Ross Harkin; Cathal Cregan, Peadar Meenan, Chris Cooper, Adam Bratton, Joe Dunleavy, Richard Baird, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, William McCleery, David Funston, David graham, Ian Bratton, Neil Burns. (Replacements) Chris Shields, Eoin Ferry, Craig Huey, Corey Logan, Matt Kilgore.
Dungannon: Glen Sinnamon, Jamie McNeill, Rodney Bennett, Peter Doran, Ross McCaughey, Stephen Todd, David Leyburn, James McMahon, Jack Reavey, John Buckely, Peter Cashel, Seamus Mallon, Paul Armstrong, Matt Montgomery,Jake Finlay. (Replacements) Jonathan Black, Sean O’Hagan, Josh Kennedy, James Bates, Andrew Mills.
Referee: Dan Carson (IRFU)