City of Derry progressed to the semi-final of the Ulster Senior Cup when, not for the first time in recent years, they came from behind to defeat a tenacious Armagh side with a converted try scored deep into injury time.
Armagh will once again wonder what they have to do to defeat the Judges Road men, having lost 10 times of their last 11 encounters but for Derry coaches Mark Nicholl and Ashley Blair, this victory continues the season’s momentum with eight wins from nine competitive fixtures. They now move on to two All Ireland League fixtures at home in consecutive weeks, starting with Old Wesley at Judges Road this Saturday.
Conditions were perfect on Saturday and both team started with intent moving the ball around well. Derry had the best of the early exchanges but the first time Armagh got into the home team’s half courtesy of a speculative kick clear they scored. The Derry defence tried to keep a ball bound for touch alive but flicked it straight into Armagh’s full-back Tim McNeice’s hands and he ran in for a try which was converted by Kiwi out half Dylan Ferreira.
Derry’s retort was immediate. With Chris Cooper dominating the lineout and solid scrummaging from Steven Jefferson, Sam McAuley and Paul McFeely, quality ball was a given for scrum-half Andrew Semple. The result was out-half Richard McCarter was beginning to dictate proceedings with elusive running and accurate passing.
The Derry pack produced the equalising score on 17 minutes when, following two powerful scrums which were collapsed by an under pressure Armagh eight, the referee awarded a penalty try which McCarter converted to level the score at 7-7.
Derry were caught off side at the breakdown in midfield on 20 minutes and Ferreira kicked the penalty from 35m to give Armagh a 10-7 lead.
The second quarter became very disjointed as mistakes abounded but Derry had the edge with David Houston, Adam Bratton, Tom Patton and David Funston having the better of the exchanges at the breakdown. Despite the best efforts of Peter Henderson at full-back and Chris Barber in the centre, Derry were unable to push their noses in front and turned around at half time 10-7 in arrears.
Derry started positively in the second half with Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell and David Graham looking dangerous. Richard Peoples had come on at out-half and his physical presence produce rewards after three minutes when he broke a couple of tackles to chip forward. With Funston and Bratton winning quick ruck ball, Semple found Barber who touched down for an unconverted try and Derry led 12-10.
Derry were applying pressure without penetration and on 59 minutes they were intercepted while on the attack in the Armagh half as Josh Morton collected and sprinted 60m to touch down between the posts. With Ferreira converting Armagh were ahead by 17-12.
Derry were almost out of the game from the kick-off when they fell asleep at the breakdown and allowed Armagh to come straight through the ruck, visiting hooker Peter Lambe looking destined to score. However, Derry played their get out of jail card in the form of ‘Man of the Match’ Barber who came from nowhere and produced a match-winning tackle on Lambe 5m short. With Derry turning over possession they were still in the game.
Derry looked to be in for a score on 69 minutes but with a three man overlap five meters out, Armagh’s Matthew Steenson slapped Semple’s pass down and was sent to the sin bin.
Derry kept coming back and were awarded a penalty in front of the posts with just two minutes of normal time remaining and they went for the points. Barber kicked Derry within 2pts of Armagh and they now trailed by 15-17.
Derry looked like scoring on a few occasions with powerful runs from Chris Shields, Gareth Beattie David Ferguson and Stephen Corr. The home side had another penalty three minutes into injury time to take the lead from 30m out by unfortunately it was missed.
Armagh kicked long and Henderson ran the ball back from his own half as the game entered the sixth minute of injury time. Henderson passed to Semple who off-loaded to Patton. Patton drove for the line to draw two men before passing to winger Logue who got in at the corner but touched down between the posts. With Barber converting Derry had once again grasped victory from the jaws of defeat against Armagh, this time by 25-17.
City of Derry; Steven Jefferson, Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely, David Houston, Chris Cooper, Adam Bratton, David Funston, Tom Patton, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, David Graham, Chris Barber, Ryan Campbell, Simon Logue, Peter Henderson, Replacements; Gareth Beattie, David Ferguson, Chris Shields, Stephen Ferguson, Richard Peoples.