CITY of Derry’s strength in depth will be tested to the maximum this weekend when they travel to De La Salle Palmerstown for a key All Ireland League Division 2A clash minus NINE first XV regulars.
Michael Wilson reports
Tomorrow’s fixture, rescheduled from January 26th when the Dublin club’s Kirwan Park pitch was flooded, could not have come at a worse time for Derry Head Coach Mark Nicholl who must plan without the services of Peter Henderson, Richard McCarter, Davy Houston, Bob McKillop, Chris Shields, Adam Parke, Davy Witherow, Sam McAuley and Andrew Semple. An Ulster League trip to Ballymena had originally been pencilled in for this weekend but the switch has caught a number of the players off guard with Henderson undertaking exams; Houston at a wedding and McCarter out of the country.
Despite the Leinster men currently sitting bottom of the table, Nicholl admitted he was less than thrilled when the IRFU revealed the new date for the fixture.
“It is far from ideal but we have to deal with it,” explained Derry’s coach.
“Probably the most frustrating thing about the situation is that everyone, with the exception of Semple, should be back next week.
“We have players who can come in a do a job though and for them this is an opportunity. Paul McFeely and Gareth Beattie are both back which is a bonus and I have every confidence in the players. We might be lacking a bit of experience in areas but the players are capable of stepping up and getting the result.”
This weekend’s game starts a crucial run of four AIL fixtures in succession with Banbridge at Judges Road next week followed by fixtures against Highfield and Bective Rangers.
“We coming into an important part of the season and have a busy AIL programme over the next few weeks. That starts this weekend and we won’t be taking D.L.S.P. lightly. They may be at the bottom of the table but they are not a bad side and will battle for everything.
“If the pitch was not playable two weeks ago because of rain, well, there has been plenty of wet weather since which means the pitch is likely to be very heavy and that can be a great leveller. Ideally you would like to be going into conditions like that with as big a pack as we’ll have to win the physical battle.”
Derry haven’t played since their Ulster League 38-17 victory over Queen’s at Judges Road on January 19th and currently sit 9th in AIL 2A, 10 points off fourth placed Banbridge. De La Salle have won two of their eight AIL games with one draw and five defeats but with only three points separating the division’s bottom five clubs they know a win could lift them clear of the relegation places.