TOMORROw at 2.30pm Bevan Lynch leads City of Derry out at Judges Road for the final time but don’t be expecting much sentiment. After all, there is the business of promotion to All Ireland League Division 1B to deal with.
Michael Wilson reports
In his four years as Head Coach the New Zealander, backed by a progressive team behind the scenes, has overseen a radical transformation of the local club, guiding it from the wilderness of Ulster junior rugby to the brink of a third successive promotion. Along the way they have picked up every Junior trophy available, including the All Ireland Junior Cup, and claimed the AIL Division 3 title on a dramatic final day last season.
So you could understand Lynch taking time out to bask in a job well done before his summer departure for home. Right?
Well, no, because it hasn’t only been the personnel and tactics that have changed during the Kiwi’s term, it is the entire mentality of the club. Where once targets were set modestly, now it is about ambition.
Upon promotion from the junior ranks in 2010, many were surprised when Lynch immediately set his side the goal of promotion from AIL Division Three, a league they had taken two years to reach. They promptly achieved not only promotion but also won their first ever All Ireland league title. Lynch’s reaction? To target promotion from the newly named Division 2A.
An indifferent start looked to have put pay to those lofty aspirations and had critics claiming the young City of Derry side had found its level. However, a Christmas meeting of players and team management in which some harsh truths were told reinvigorated the team.
Ten wins from 10 later, Derry are back in the promotion race - albeit as outsiders - but facing a tough two-game finish, beginning with tomorrow’s crucial visit of Malone and followed by a trip to Queens. To maintain their slim hopes, Lynch’s team must not only win twice, but realistically they have to secure a bonus point in both and hope for results to go their way.
It promises to be quite a finalé to a wonderful period of Derry’s recent history and anyone who has followed the team over the past four years knows they are not renowned for making life easy for themselves and even now the Head Coach is refusing to contemplate his imminent return home, not while there is still a job to do at Judges Road!
“Four years, yes, but as I have said to the players this week, the only thing we all need to be concentrating on is the Malone game,” explained Lynch.
“We have a tendency to freeze in big games and not play up to our potential. We have been below par recently yet still managed to get results. Our last decent performance was probably against De La Salle so we know we have to improve. I am not going to get too emotive about it being my last game at Judges Road but it would be nice to finish on a winning note.”
Despite the drastic post-Christmas revival in fortunes, Lynch knows his side remain outsiders as one of six sides still trying to secure second spot behind Dublin University. Four points separate second placed Malone from seventh placed Greystones but of the contenders fourth placed Corinthians have perhaps the easiest run-in with games against two of the bottom three teams.
“It is a bit of a mathematical minefield at the minute but all we can do is try to maximise our own points total and see where that takes us. We are still aiming for the top four finish we set ourselves at Christmas. For promotion, we would need a bit of luck to go our way. Yes, Corinthians are probably in the box seat for that second spot at the minute because of the games they have left but we will see.”
It has been a mixed week on the team front for Lynch and his assistant Mark McNicholl who have seen Gareth Beattie (hamstring) and Richard McCarter both likely to be ruled out. On the plus side though, Chris Cooper came through Tuesday night’s session and will be available, as is the returning Colin Mitchell who comes in as a dual status player.
Needing to win with a bonus point is nothing new to Derry who have been over this course in both the junior league and Division Three and Lynch is not underestimating the importance of that experience.
“It has always been our goal to pick up bonus points and we have managed that recently although only just at times. Four points is not good enough for us. Four points and we are gone but we have nothing to lose and will be giving it a real go.
“Every game has been vital since the Clonakilty game and it’s important now that we have put ourselves in a decent position that we go on and finish the season as we intended to. Malone have been playing well of late but we certainly wont be intimidated by them. We want to finish our home fixtures with a win.
“Last year, going into the final day, we went from third to first and won the league but our concentration at the minute has to be focused on Malone. If we don’t do the business on Saturday, the last game won’t matter.”
So will Lynch and his players be keeping up to date with proceedings across the other games?
“We live in an IT world now so I would expect the boys will be on their phones after the match checking the other scores but we cannot effect those games, we can only look to maximise our own points. If, at the end of the day, that’s not good enough then we have to learn lessons from games in which we didn’t perform as we should have,” he added.