HEAD coach Mark Nicholl has challenged his City of Derry side to extend their three game AIL winning run ahead of two games he believes will define their season.
Michael Wilson reports
The Judges Road men have bounced back into contention at the top of the Division 2A table after victories over Queen’s University, D.L.S.P. and Banbridge and tomorrow travel to Munster to face a Highfield team that has lost their last four AIL games.
Derry’s revival has left them well placed in sixth to secure their season’s objective of a top four finish but a with a number of rivals still to face each other, victory tomorrow and next week against Bective Rangers could leave Derry with an outside chance of the top two, not that Nicholl is looking that far ahead.
“This season has followed the trend of recent years in that we lost our form slightly before Christmas,” admitted Nicholl, “We had injuries and things but we weren’t playing that badly, we were making individual errors and those were costing us a lot of points. Thankfully we have turned that around and are playing with confidence again but the players know the hard work still lies ahead of us.
“The next two games are absolutely massive for us and if we can get the right results it puts us in a very good position. A lot of teams above us have yet to play each other so there is an opportunity for us to make ground but we have to look after ourselves first and foremost.
“Highfield will be a big challenge and there is no point looking too far ahead. We have to try and get the right result on Saturday and move on to the next game.”
Nicholl will once again have to shuffle his pack with Steven Ferguson, Chris Cooper and Bob McKillop all missing while winger Simon Logue is extremely doubtful after receiving nine stitches in a facial wound last week against Banbridge.
“Yes, we have a few injuries and a few unavailable but that’s what you get at this time of the season, we will deal with it. Simon (Logue) has nine stitches in and while he hasn’t ruled himself out yet, it is very much touch and go and if I had to make a call at this point, I would say he probably won’t make it.”
Highfield currently sit ninth in the table and despite their recent poor run, Nicholl knows his team will have to be at their best against a team with traditionally a lot of power up front.
“Yes, they have been on a poor run of late but Highfield have two home matches left and they will be targeting two home victories. Any Munster team at home is going to be difficult and we know we will get nothing easy on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, City Of Derry Second XV will be hoping to continue their recent run of form when Dungannon come calling to Judges Road in the Quarter-Final of the Towns Cup.
City of Derry coaches James Doherty and Sean O’Kane will be hoping injuries and unavailability to the senior squad will not hinder their chances of selecting a strong team.