Derry boost squad as AIL build-up begins

City of Derry's Jared Bennett races through a gap in the Richmond lines at Judges Road on Saturday. LS16-117KM10
City of Derry's Jared Bennett races through a gap in the Richmond lines at Judges Road on Saturday. LS16-117KM10

CITY OF Derry coach Mark Nicholl has revealed former overseas favourite, Karl Gemmell could return to Judges Road this season as the club’s preparations begin in earnest for life in All Ireland League Division 2A.

MICHAEL WILSON reports

The 22-year-old Kiwi flanker was a pivotal member of the team which restored Derry to senior rugby and claimed an historic All Ireland Junior Cup victory in 2010. Since returning to New Zealand the Gisborne-born player has continued to impress and with Tom Patton and Stephen Sims expected to leave the club, Gemmell would be an ideal replacement as Derry seek to boost forward numbers in a squad that has already welcomed a number of new faces.

The players officially report back for pre-season training next Tuesday (August 2nd) but Nicholl is still hoping to add to the first team squad.

“With Tom and Stephen going, we would like to get a few more forwards in,” revealed the forwards coach, “We will certainly be looking but these types of forwards can be scarce.

“We also have the possibility of maybe getting an overseas player in and, yes, it is still a possibility that Karl (Gemmell) could return. The New Zealand season has to be tied up in time for the World Cup which means many of the players over there could be at a loose end for two or three months and of course it would be great to have Karl back at the club.”

Ulster Ravens player, Patton has moved back to Belfast where he is in the final year of study at Queens while Sims will transfer to Letterkenny because of family commitments. Winger William McCleery will be available for the first few weeks of the AIL season before emigrating to Canada where he will practice law.

Those losses will be offset by the addition of six new players including a welcomed return for former players, Jaryd Bennett and Adam Bratton who come in from Buccaneers and Ballynahinch respectively. Also arriving are young Coleraine duo Chris Barber and Adam Parke. Barber, who operates at centre or full-back, is a member of the Ulster Under-19 side while out-half Parke has played for Ulster Juniors.

“Adam (Parke) is a strong runner with a good left foot while Chris (Barber) has been with the Ulster Under-20s and these are the type of players we have been hoping to attract. We were short of numbers in the backs at times last season so this will gives us a few more options,” added Nicholl.

“Jaryd (Bennett) and Adam (Bratton) are both proven players and it is great to see them back at the club.”

In the pack, prop-forward Gareth Beattie has signed from Enniskillen while hooker Jamie Boyle has come in from Letterkenny as Derry seek to hit the ground running.

“All of the players have been working on their own programmes during the off-season and for the last few weeks we have had one light training session of ‘touch’ on a Thursday night but we are trying to put the emphasis on the players to look after themselves. They have been working together in groups and going to the gym so it has been going well so far.

“We are really looking forward to the challenge ahead and it’s exactly what you want as a player. Having spoken to the players, they really want to give it a big push for another promotion but we know it will be a big ask. There are only two teams going up but that’s what we will be aiming for.

“As coaches you need hungry rugby players to succeed and the competition and camaraderie among this group of players is first class, so we are really looking forward to this new challenge,” he added.

The club’s first pre-season game sees the local side travel to Limerick on August 19th to take on UL Bohemians before meeting Tralee and Sunday’s Well as part of the ‘Rose of Tralee’ Festival the following morning.

The first Ulster League game is at home to Banbridge on Saturday, August 27th while the fixtures for City of Derry’s eagerly anticipated return to the AIL Division 2 will be released on next Tuesday.

Tuesday’s pre-season training starts at 7.00pm at Judges Road and will continue each Tuesday and Thursday afterwards. New players are welcome and anyone who would like to give rugby a try for the first time is also welcome to come along.