CITY OF Derry coach, Mark Nicholl believes his side have “unfinished business” to attend to when they lock horns with Division 1B leaders, Ballymena in tomorrow’s Ulster Senior League tie at Judges Road. (Kick-off 2.30 p.m)
Simon Collins reports
Having missed out on a second successive Ulster Senior Cup final appearance following a devastating semi-final defeat to the ‘Braidmen’ on home turf last month, Bevan Lynch’s troops finally have their chance for revenge.
Derry had got off to the worst possible start in that fixture when conceding two converted trys inside the opening 10 minutes but they fought back defiantly and the Co. Antrim men were hanging on anxiously during an intense final 10 minutes to eke out a 33-27 win.
Ballymena went on to claim the Ulster Cup trophy with a 17-11 victory over Banbridge, leaving the Judges Road men pondering what could have been had they not conceded those soft, early trys.
“The entire squad have been looking forward to this fixture for the last couple of weeks,” explained Nicholl. “They, along with everyone at the club, feel like there is some unfinished business following the manner of our defeat to Ballymena last month in the cup semi-final.
“We gave away a few soft trys early that day and we have worked at the reasons why we have found ourselves in that position a few times this season.”
Victory against a top, in-form Ballymena side tomorrow afternoon would represent a significant, morale-boosting achievement and a result which Nicholl believes could re-ignite their season.
“We hope we have eradicated why we have got behind in games and we will bring our ‘A Game’ to the table tomorrow and give our supporters a New Year’s present that they, and everyone associated with the club, thoroughly deserve.
“This is an opportunity for the players to test themselves again against the current leaders in AIL Division 1B. We are looking forward to a big crowd to finish off the year in style with victory”.
Following an unconvincing start to the All-Ireland League 2A campaign, Derry have found good form recently with two comprehensive victories over Ulster opposition.
They defeated Malone at home last time out in the Ulster Senior League by 25-7 to consolidate their third position in the League.
Prior to that they dismissed Instonians in some style by 35-14 in AIL Division 2A and they will feel a win over Ballymena tomorrow will provide the motivation and confidence to continue their rise up the AIL table when they resume their campaign on January 28th away to bottom club, Clonakilty.
Meanwhile, Ballymena have also hit a rich vein of form and currently top the Division 1B table, just ahead of Buccaneers and Ballynahinch whom Derry defeated in the Ulster Cup quarter-final away from home at the end of October.
Ballymena have only been defeated once in the AIL and in their last AIL at the beginning of this month they had a narrow 6-3 victory in an all-Ulster clash against Ballynahinch.
However Derry will be inspired by their gallant efforts against the ‘Braidsman’ in that Ulster Senior Cup semi-final where they made their opposition look ordinary at times.
City of Derry has only played Ballymena twice in recent times prior to their Cup defeat last month and on both occasions they were successful.
Last year Derry defeated Ballymena in the Ulster League away by 39-28 and when the teams met previously to that was when Derry last played senior rugby in season 2007-2008 and it was then a home victory to Derry by 31-24.
City of Derry - Chris Shields, Cathal Creggan, Stephen Duffy, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, Gareth Beattie, Bob McKillop, Brian Prue, David Houston, Chris McDonald, Stephen Ferguson, Stephen Corr, Mark Walker, Richard Baird, Andrew Semple, Ian Vance, Richard McCarter, Richard Peoples, Josh Lewis, Adam Parke, Adam Bratton, Chris Barber, Ryan Campbell, Simon Logue, David Funston. David Graham, William McCleery.