City of Derry Head Coach Terry McMaster claims there is no point looking at league tables at this stage of the season despite the Judges Road men sitting pretty at the top of AIL Division 2B.
McMaster’s team find themselves five points clear after only three games as the only side to have all their fixtures and this week welcome Ulster rivals Armagh for what will be a second visit in less than six weeks.
Despite the impressive start, the Derry coach does not see any merit in ‘talking tables’ so early in the season.
“We won’t start looking at league tables until January,” explained the Derry coach, “If you look at last week’s game, people were talking about it in terms of top versus bottom which was ridiculous. There is no such things after two game and Sunday’s Well were a very hard nut to crack.”
This weekend Armagh arrive having already defeated the Orchard County side 40-18 in this season’s Ulster Senior Cup, a result which saw impressive debuts from a number of Derry’s summer recruits, notably full-back Ali Beckett and wing-forward John Burns who scored two tries each.
Armagh brought in former Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin as a coaching consultant to work alongside Alex McCloy and Willie Faloon but they have had an indifferent start.
Following the Senior Cup defeat at Judges Road, they bounced back to open their AIL campaign with a 21-20 Ulster derby victory over Dungannon before falling to defeats at Greystones (17-16) and at home to Highfield (29-15) last Saturday.
That is in sharp contrast to Derry’s start but McMaster won’t be fooled as Armagh should be stronger this weekend.
Encounters between the clubs produced some memorable encounters for Derry. Back in 2006/07, with Gerald McCarter as Head Coach, Derry looked destined for defeat in a Division Three relegation play-off but a penalty from Richard Allen and three late tries by former Derry players playing that day as dual status, James Moore, Keith Gallick and Colin Mitchell in the last five minutes to give Derry an 18-12 win.
Another memorable contest came in 2009/10 when both teams finished level on points at the end of their Qualifying league campaigns meaning a ‘winner-takes-all’ play-off at Shaws Bridge in Belfast before a huge crowd for a Junior fixture. It was one of the most physical but fair games either of the teams would have experienced but Derry were victorious by 17-7 though they took five serious injuries into their AIL Round Robin play-off against Seapoint at Judges Road the following Saturday and were defeated. This seriously dented Derry’s chances of promotion to All Ireland League Division 3. The team regrouped and went on to defeat Monivea and Richmond to set-up an emotional play-off victory when they defeated Portadown in Chambers Park to regain AIL status.
There promises to be a big crowd at Judges Road for what should be a classic encounter of running rugby.