SHOULD City of Derry achieve promotion to All-Ireland League rugby’s second tier this season, Head Coach, Bevan Lynch will no doubt look upon Saturday’s Lazarus-like, injury time resurrection as the pivotal point of the club’s campaign.
SIMON COLLINS was at Judges Road
Photographs: STEPHEN LATIMER
With the seconds ticking down fast during that fifth minute of added time against fellow promotion chasers, Greystones, their dream of achieving successive promotions appeared dead and buried.
No one at the Waterside venue would have envisaged such a dramatic change in fortunes at the death as Greystones did all in their power to kill the game off and hold out for a much needed bonus point victory, but Derry drove forward in the driving rain in search of one final opening.
The plucky home lot have the creativity and pace to unlock any defence in the division but it was their strength and dominance in the scrum which slowly swung the game in their favour during the second half.
And just when it appeared that the nail was ready to be slammed into their 2012 coffin, suddenly the Judges Road men came alive.
Trailing by four points, Chris Barbour spotted a gap in midfield in the last play of the game and took his chance, sprinting towards the posts to touch down for a converted try, much to the delight of the large home support.
And the reaction of the Derry bench told its own story as they knew they had used their ‘get out of jail card’ to great effect. It was, as Lynch suggested, “a lucky escape.”
It certainly was a crucial win which takes Derry into eighth place, level on points (33) with Greystones and just four off second placed, Seapoint.
However, despite being gifted an early try in the opening stages, from then until those dramatic scenes in the final seconds, a home victory appeared unlikely.
And now with three games remaining, a home clash against Malone sandwiched between away trips to Bective Rangers and Queens University, who would write off Derry’s chances of securing that promotion play-off spot?
They will need a significant improvement from Saturday when they take on Bective in Donnybrook next week as they failed to impress in large periods of the game.
Greystones giftwrapped the home side’s opening try after just four minutes as Conor Clery misplaced his pass and Richard McCarter intercepted and ran unchallenged for 30 metres to touch down under the posts for a try he converted himself.
From then onwards Greystones executed their game-plan expertly, making use of their pacey backs and when Simon Logue found himself mis-matched and stranded on the left wing against the towering Clery, he was unable to put a halt to the move and the visitors crossed the line in the corner for a converted try.
Peter Henderson badly dislocated his finger in the build-up to that try which signalled the end of his involvement and Derry clearly missed his contribution in attack.
Greystones found the necessary gaps in the Derry defence almost at will, and when Ross Spillane found space in the centre he burst through the Derry ranks before offloading to Andrew Kealy on the left flank who added the Wicklow men’s second try. Kealy’s attempted conversion struck the outside of the posts and fell wide.
Once again Derry were punished by Spillane as he ventured unchallenged through the middle and the ball was spread wide to Ronan Carroll who touched down for another unconverted try.
It was an instantly forgettable first half for the home lot but as they often do, they improved greatly in the second half, taking advantage of Billy Norman’s sin-binning just before the interval.
McCarter’s penalty from 30 metres reduced the deficit to seven points and Semple benefited from Mark Walker’s strong surge forward when finding space to score on the left flank for an uncoverted try.
Greystones responded with a splendid effort 10 minutes later when outhalf, Spillane’s chip and chase was gathered by Kealy who crossed the line to ensure a bonus point and healthy nine point advantage.
When captain, Barry Holmes was sin-binned for killing the ball on the hour mark the tide appeared to be turning in favour of the Derry outfit but despite being awarded a succession of penalties deep inside the Greystones’ 22 they made little headway and came away from a dominant 10 minute period with their tails between their legs.
Finally there was movement on the scoreboard after a superb, flowing move involving McCarter and Ryan Campbell, culminating in Josh Lewis crossing the line for an unconverted try which reduced the difference to four points with 12 minutes to play.
When Barbour was stopped just short of the Greystones posts following a terrific 40 metre run, Greystones winger, Carroll produced a crucial cover tackle to prevent Derry taking the lead and it seemed it wasn’t going to be Derry’s game.
Greystone’s slowed the play at every opportunity but were unable to prevent Barbour during those tense moments in the dying seconds of the game when Barbour crashed over the line to steal victory.
City of Derry - Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, David Houston, Brian Prue, Stephen Corr, Stephen Duffy, Richard Baird, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell, Chris Barbour, Adam Bratton, Peter Henderson; Replacements - Cathal Cregan, Gareth Beattie, Mark Walker, Richard Peoples, Josh Lewis.
Referee - Mr. K. Henley-Willis (Clonakilty).