CITY of Derry captain, David Funston, will be back on the bench tomorrow as Mark Nicholl’s men seek to secure a victory against Cashel in their final AIL Division 2A fixture before Christmas.
Michael Wilson reports
Funston has been out with a knee injury sustained against Old Wesley at the end of October but his return increases Nicholl’s options for a match which could hinge on which pack wins the battle up front. To that degree the return of Bob McKillop is another boost for the locals who will be without Gareth Beattie, Richard Baird and Richard McCarter. Sam Duffy comes in for Beattie while the absence of McCarter means a first start of the season at No. 10 for Adam Parke. Simon Logue is available again but not quite 100% yet and will take his place alongside Funston on the bench.
Despite last week’s reversal to Galwegians, Derry remain only 10 points behind leaders Banbridge and as some of his walking wounded begin to return, Derry’s Head Coach knows the importance of remaining in touch with the league leaders.
“Last week we looked good for 25 minutes,” explained Nicholl, “We stuck to our patterns and defended well but in the second half we committed too many players to defensive rucks and kept carrying the ball into Galwegians. It was almost like rugby league at times and it suited them. We should have been playing the wide game but it’s gone now, we must move on and concentrate on Cashel.
“Cashel were defeated by Old Wesley 37-14 last week but I have seen the video and they were actually the better team for long periods of the game so it will not be an easy game for us. But we want to make sure we go in to the Christmas break with a win. Hopefully we will be back to full strength after Christmas so we want to be in as strong a position as possible.”
Derry led 13-0 at one stage in last week’s fixture and Nicholl stressed the importance of taking advantage of scoring opportunities against Cashel who sit two places beneath Derry in 10th and three points worse off on 12.
“We are all looking forward to this week. It’s good to have the opportunity to get straight back into the AIL action after last week’s disappointment. We have most of the pack there which is important for this game because Cashel have a lot of strength in the pack and we will have to match them but I’m more than confident we have the players to do that.
“Cashel have an outstanding No. 8 and blind-side flanker who, if you allow them space, can really hurt you so we have to be up quickly and make sure we win the collisions when it matters. They actually try to play a similar style of rugby to ourselves but their pitch is traditionally quite heavy and it could turn things into a real battle but I have no doubt if we stick to our patterns and win the battle up front, we can score points against them.”
Following tomorrow’s fixture, Derry’s next AIL fixture will be on January 19th against Queen’s University at Judges Road with a number of teams still in contention to make a push for promotion.
“Last week all the results actually went for us with the exception of our own,“ added Nicholl, “The table is very tight. We are still only two wins off the top of the league and what the results so far have shown is that any team in this league is capable of defeating any other on any particular day.
“It’s a long season and a couple of injuries can make a real difference but that’s why we have a panel and it’s up to all the players to step up to the plate. It would be nice to get back to full strength because it increases competition. I mean if you look at out back row, it more or less picks itself at the minute and it would be better to have the likes of Richard Baird available to increase the pressure on those playing but we have a strong squad and I’m confident we can get the right result.”