CITY of Derry captain, David Funston, has been ruled out of tomorrow’s All-Ireland League Division 2A clash with Galway Corinthians (Judges Road, 2.30pm) after the knee injury he sustained in last weekend’s victory over Old Wesley failed to respond to treatment.
Michael Wilson reports
Funston is joined on the casualty list by second row, Chris Cooper, who jarred his neck in the same fixture while Richard Baird, Josh Lewis and William McCleery are not yet fit enough to return to First XV action. The loss of Funston - who has been a revelation since his move from centre to flanker - and Cooper means a place on the bench for former captain Bob McKillop though Head Coach, Mark Nicholl, admits he is concerned over Funston’s injury.
“It’s never a good time to lose your captain but it is especially frustrating when you lose a player like David at a time he is playing so well,” explained Nicholl, whose side was yesterday drawn to face Ballymena in the Ulster Senior Cup semi-final at Eaton Park on Saturday, November 24th.
“He has been excellent for us in recent games while Chris (Cooper) is always a big asset in the line-outs. Chris hurt his neck while David’s knee has not been responding to treatment which is a worry so he won’t be risked this weekend. That said, with David out, Tom Patton can slip back into his normal position at seven with Stephen Corr taking over at No. 8.”
Despite the loss of key men, Nicholl has no worries about calling on the ‘old warrior’ McKillop.
“Yes, Bob will be on the bench and it is always good to have a player of that experience available to you. In tight games like this Bob is exactly the sort of player you can bring on the shore things up or win vital ball.”
With Derry and Corinthians sitting fifth and third respectively in the Division 2A table, the importance of victory on Saturday cannot be underestimated and Nicholl knows his side must be at their best.
“Corinthians are a very good scrummaging side but you can never be sure what sort of side you will be facing. They use their Academy players a lot down there so things change. Last year we played them when they had six Academy players on and they were very impressive but the following week they had none and were beaten, so their side can vary a lot.
“That said, whatever team they get out will be strong. They have had a good start to the season and like to play a wide game. They also boast a good set-piece so it should be a good, open game.”
Tomorrow’s game will be the ninth AIL fixture between the two clubs in either Divisions 2A or 3. Corinthians have had the better of the clashes with five wins and four defeats, the team’s last meeting in the second AIL game of the last year season when Derry were brushed aside 32-7. Derry’s preparation for that fixture was far from ideal though as they travelled to Galway on the morning of the game having watched Ireland play Wales in the quarter-final of the World Cup before leaving Judges Road. That defeat was followed by two further setbacks against Old Crescent and Midleton before the season was turned around and Derry gave themselves a chance of promotion with two games of the season remaining. That ‘last gasp’ scenario is something Nicholl is keen to avoid this season.
“We set ourselves a target of 14 or 15 points from the first 20 this year because realistically no team is going to win every week in this league and a win on Saturday would leave us satisfied with our start but this league is about hanging in there. Last year we were almost out of it before we got going and we want ensure that doesn’t happen again.
“Last week against Old Wesley we almost paid the price because we stopped doing what were good at. We had something like 19 turnovers against us in the second half alone and 14 in the ruck. That tells its own story but we have been working hard on things in training this week. Wesley were a decent team but we let them look good because we allowed them to play. The Wesley No. 10 was able to dictate proceedings in the second half and was a good player but he was afforded far too much time and space. If you give even a bad player that much time and space they will look good, so that’s something we have to be wary of this week.”
Corinthians enjoyed a great victory against previously unbeaten Cashel at home last week by 19-7 and come to Judges Road high on confidence but Derry, with five point victories in their last two last AIL two games, have restored self belief following the opening day defeat to U.C.C., so all the ingredients are in place for an excellent contest.
The Galway club have been great friends of City of Derry over the years when they - along with Skerries, Bohemians and Young Munster from Limerick - were the only teams to come north during the troubles to fulfil friendly fixtures. The return fixtures were always an adventure and a moral boosting experience in troubled times when the hospitality was of the highest order and lifelong friendships were initiated. Those friendships will be cast aside for 80 minutes tomorrow as both sides go in search of a vital victory.
City of Derry (from) - Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely, David Houston, Brian Prue, Adam Bratton, Tom Patton, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell, Chris Barber, David Graham, Peter Henderson, Replacements; Cathal Cregan, Gareth Beattie, Steven Jefferson, Stephen Corr, Richard Peoples.