WINNING breeds confidence and that old sporting adage certainly rang true for City of Derry on Saturday as they continued to turn around their recent misfortunes with an impressive and vital All-Ireland League victory over Queens University at Judges Road.
SIMON COLLINS was at Judges Road
Photographs: PHIL GAMBLE
Mark Nicholl’s rejuvenated troops were clearly brimming with confidence which came as a result of the previous weekend’s second half revival against high flying Banbridge where they bounced back from a 20 point deficit to claim victory in the Ulster Senior League.
Derry had limped into that encounter on the back of six successive defeats but they now appear to have rediscovered their best form at the business end of the season and they swept aside the challenge of the Belfast students with ease on Saturday on their way to a significant six try bonus point win.
The home side had dominated proceedings form the outset and produced some superb attacking rugby which left head coach, Nicholl beaming with delight at the final whistle and he claimed he had never lost heart during that run of defeats, always confident his side would turn things around when it mattered most.
“I’m delighted for the boys,” enthused Nicholl. “We turned a bit of a corner last week with the result against Banbridge and we carried our second half performance from last week into the Queens game so I’m very pleased.
“Last week we came from 20 points down at half-time and it just give the boys that extra wee lift and that showed in training and they brought that into this game. Hopefully we can push on now for the rest of the season,” he added.
The bonus point win moved Derry into seventh place in the AIL 2A table, 15 points off top spot and Nicholl believes they can close the gap on the current pacesetters should they maintain the form shown on Saturday.
“We’re just trying to get maximum points from our remaining games and we’ll see where that takes us at the end of the season, that’s all we’re looking at.
“Some people seem to forget that during those run of defeats we went through recently we had played Dungannon, Ballymena, Ballynahinch and they’re all in Section 1B.
“So we’re playing teams above us that really should be beating us judging by current league status but we gave them all a good run for their money and probably should’ve won all three matches to be honest.
“We never lost heart despite those results and the players never lost heart or trust in each other which was a big thing for me. So I’m absolutely delighted for the players today, they deserved what they got and I have to say a big thank you to all the players for the amount of work and effort they’ve put in to get themselves to this position.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the home lot as, despite their dominance in the early stages, they found themselves chasing a 0-7 deficit and Nicholl was disappointed with some of the points he felt his side gifted to Queens.
“The disappointing thing was out of their 17 points we probably gifted them all. We knew what they were capable of and we knew they were pretty good at the breakdown they have good agility and young players. But we did our homework well and we came out with the right result.
“We had some fantastic tries ourselves. The ball stuck and maybe when things weren’t going well for us the ball wouldn’t stick for us but thankfully it worked out in the right way and confidence brings that. All we can do is look after ourselves and keep pushing on.”
It was a much needed victory for Derry as it marked the end of a three game losing streak in the AIL, following successive defeats to Terrenure, Galweigians and Cashel, and if they can replicate Saturday’s performance this weekend against De La Salle Palmerston at Kirwan Park, they would no doubt continue to climb the division 2A table.
There was indeed, lots of positives to be taken from the weekend’s display but Nicholl will no doubt hammer home that they must be more clinical when dominating deep in opposition territory.
During the opening 15 minutes of Saturday’s clash with Queens, Derry were unable to make the pressure pay dividends and when possession was overturned by Stuart McIlwaine there was little or nothing they could do as the pacey Queens backs countered quickly.
McIlwaine offloaded to Chris Calvin who comfortably weaved past the challenge of Peter Henderson and ran the length of the pitch before touching down between the posts before Ritchie McMaster converted.
It was a typical Queens move but the home lot rallied and produced the perfect response four minutes later as David Graham did superbly well to break from deep, forcing his way into the Queens 22 and when Jack Caithness cleverly found David Houston in support, he strolled unchallenged for a try converted by Henderson.
The Derry full-back could have put Derry ahead on 23 minutes from a penalty 40 metres from the posts but he sent his kick badly wide. However, the Judges Road men finally got their just rewards five minutes before the interval when awarded a penalty try after Queens collapsed the scrum for the fourth time in succession five metres from the Queens line. Henderson was on the money with the conversion in front of the posts as Derry led 14-7.
Queens managed to reduce the deficit to four points right on the stroke of half-time when McMaster successfully sent his penalty kick over the bar and the game was very much there to be won for both sides.
Derry emerged after the break in ruthless fashion and during an impressive 10 minute spell they gave themselves a commanding lead and secured that crucial bonus point.
Firstly man of the match, Richard Baird broke into the Queens half and found Caithness in support and he released Simon Logue who touched down for Derry’s third try of the day. Henderson converted to give his side a healthy 11 point lead.
The bonus point was secured on 52 minutes following a sweeping move from left to right as Richard McCarter found former Queens player, Tom Patton who crossed the line in the corner for an unconverted try.
The home lot registered an unconverted try just short of the hour mark when Chris Barber capitalised on pressure from the Derry pack and extended the lead to 31-10.
Queens backline had always the potential to produce given any quality ball and they showed what the can do on 62 minutes. Ritchie McMaster made the initial break and he found replacement winger Justin Rea who sprinted into touch down for a try and when McMaster converted.
The try of the game came on 70 minutes when Henderson’s kick and chase allowed Richard McCarter to steal possession and touch down for an outstanding try converted by Henderson.
City of Derry - Steven Ferguson, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, David Houston, Brian Prue, Stephen Corr, Tom Patton, Richard Baird, Jack Caithness, Richard McCarter, David Graham, David Funston, Chris Barber, Simon Logue, Peter Henderson. Replacements; David Ferguson, Paul McFeely, David Witherow, Bob McKillop.