Derry within touching distance of promotion

CITY OF Derry coach Bevan Lynch believes his side can put one foot in ALL Ireland League Division Two tomorrow if they can overcome the considerable challenge of Highfield at Woodleigh Park (kick-off 2.30pm).

MICHAEL WILSON reports

Last week’s dramatic victory over title chasing Instonians at Judges Road put the locals ten clear of fifth place Banbridge who tomorrow travel to Naas knowing another Derry victory will make their chances of promotion almost impossible.

Derry finish at home to Naas on April 16th but their Co. Down rivals must win tomorrow and then defeat both Highfield (April 9th) and league leaders Seapoint (16th) at home - with bonus points - to have any chance of overtaking Lynch’s men.

It seems a tall order for a side who have, to date, managed only four try scoring bonus points from their eight league victories but Lynch is taking nothing for granted. Instead the Derry Head coach wants his team to finish the job themselves and that job begins with victory in Cork tomorrow.

“We know what we have to do,” explained Lynch, “Four points this weekend will make it a very difficult task for Banbridge to catch us. Five points means it is almost impossible as they would have to run up some big scores against good teams, including Seapoint.

“Four points puts us 95% of the way there and this weekend will probably be the tougher of our two remaining games, although we won’t be taking either lightly.”

Derry go into the game with both Bob McKillop and Simon Logue ruled out for the season while doubts remain over the fitness of centre Ryan Campbell and winger Josh Lewis which has left the squad bereft of backs. Rudi Moore did make his comeback with the Second XV last week and could come in. Front row Davy Witherow is also unavailable which is a blow against a Munster team renowned for their forward power.

“We’ve been here before regarding injuries and in the past these guys have always stepped up and been counted and we’ll be looking at them to do it again on Saturday,” added the Derry coach.

“Highfield have come down from Division Two last season and are sitting mid-table but I don’t think they deserve to be there. If you look at the games they’ve played and the results they’ve had, especially against the top sides, they’ve been very close.

“They seem to have forgotten how to win and lost that knack of closing out games. Losing can become a habit just like winning but we’ll be aiming to make sure they don’t break that habit this weekend.

“We’ve heard a lot about them and I expect them to play a typically Munster style of rugby. Their forwards are big and uncompromising and with Davy unavailable and Bob ruled out, it makes it difficult. So yes, we’ll be going with a relatively young pack but I’m confident they can hold their own.”

Derry have a decent record against Highfield with four wins and two defeats over the six AIL meetings between the teams. The last time the sides met was in the season 2003-2004 when Derry lost 25-20.

With the recent slump in form looking well and truly behind them, Lynch will be praying for fair skies on Leeside so Derry can play the running rugby which at times in the first half last week left Instonians chasing shadows.

“The weekend weather reports from Cork don’t seem to be doing us any favours with a lot of rain forecast. It has been dry for a while down there which means the pitches are quite hard but that is supposed to change. It has managed to stay fine so far though so we’ll be hoping the weather men have got it wrong again.

“Everyone of the players seems to have got their heads together now. We simply weren’t working hard enough in the post-Christmas period. We perhaps were beginning to believe our own press to a degree and had forgotten what put us where we were which was hard work. We seemed to be relying on individuals to score miracle tries.

“We stripped our whole game down and started again but I think it was work ethic which was the key factor. Once we addressed that, the results have taken care of themselves. Our defence against Instonians highlighted that ethic. For the last seven or eight minutes the players refused to let them pass and worked together as a unit, putting their bodies on the line for themselves and their team mates.

“That’s the sort of effort and determination we will be looking for again against Highfield,” he added.

City of Derry Team (from): Davy Witherow, Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Stephen Duffy, Sam Duffy, Tom Patton, David Houston. Stephen Corr, Stephen Simms, Richard Baird, Chris Cooper, Philip Brady, Stephen Ferguson, Andrew Semple, Richard Peoples, Richard McCarter, David Funston, Ryan Campbell, Stuart Thompson, Ryan Campbell, William McCleery, David Murdock, Josh Lewis, Rudi Moore, Peter Henderson.