Injury time title heartbreak as City of Derry forced into play-offs

City of Derry's Richard McCarter probes for a gap in the Barnhall lines during Saturday's final AIL Division 2b game of the season. DER1416-104KM

City of Derry's Richard McCarter probes for a gap in the Barnhall lines during Saturday's final AIL Division 2b game of the season. DER1416-104KM

AIL DIVISION 2B: City of Derry 24, Barnhall 7

Head Coach Terry McMaster refused to blame a below par Bective performance against Highfield after the Cork club scored three converted injury time tries to snatch the AIL Division 2B title from City of Derry in the most cruel of circumstances.

City of Derry's Corey Logan battles to hold off these Barnhall tackles. DER1416-102KM

City of Derry's Corey Logan battles to hold off these Barnhall tackles. DER1416-102KM

The Judges Road club went into Saturday’s final game of the season at home to Barnhall knowing a bonus point victory would guarantee them the title and automatic promotion and when winger Simon Logue grabbed their third try 13 minutes into the second half, Derry looked well on course. However a combination of poor decision making and spurned opportunities meant that fourth try remained elusive.

It looked academic tough as news filtered through from Woodleigh Park that - with 80 minutes elapsed - Highfield led Bective 38-7, some 11 points adrift of the tally the Munster club required to claim the title on points difference.

Seven minutes of injury time and three converted tries later the unthinkable had happened; Highfield were champions.

Refusing to cast an critical glance back to the Cork side’s controversial victory over his own team in November which came 15 minutes into added time, McMaster said promotion remained the target.

We are in the play-offs, at home to Sunday’s well and as disappointed as we are, I think what everybody saw is that there is still a spirit within this side and there is still rugby to be played. Yes, we’re gutted but we will be back...

City of Derry Head Coach, Terry McMaster

“You get that at this stage of the year,” explained the Derry coach, “I mean, I wasn’t in Cork to see the other game but the Bective team we played last week with three guest players and one Kiwi obviously didn’t go to Cork but that’s life. You just have to get on with it and we will.

“We’re gutted but nobody’s died. It’s sport and they are very fine margins. A finger tip here or there in the last five minutes and we would have secured the bonus point try we needed and it would have been done and dusted but will regroup and go again.

“We are in the play-offs, at home to Sunday’s well and as disappointed as we are, I think what everybody saw is that there is still a spirit within this side and there is still rugby to be played. Yes, we’re gutted but we will be back at it next week.”

Derry have little over a week now to prepare for the April 16th visit of Sunday’s Well to Judges Road with Greystones meeting Skerries in the other play-off, the winners meeting in the final to decide who plays in AIL 2A next season.

City of Derry hooker Cathal Cregan is hauled down just short of the Barnhall try-line. DER1416-106KM

City of Derry hooker Cathal Cregan is hauled down just short of the Barnhall try-line. DER1416-106KM

“There’s another battle to be fought and another war to be won,” added McMaster, “The next battle is Sunday’s Well in the play-off so we will take stock. That’s what we do, we look to prepare for that battle.

“Yes, I’m still confident of promotion. We came within a fingertip of it against Barnhall. We made things difficult for ourselves and the season has been extended now but we lost our first choice prop in the warm-up and that was disruption.

“Stephen Corr got married on Friday and he wasn’t available so those sort of things came into the equation but we get a few players back now. Davy Houston is back from holiday and we didn’t pick up any significant injuries against Barnhall. We regroup and it would be a different proposition if we had to travel all the way to Cork to play Sunday’s Well but they have to come here and I’m sure they had a bruising encounter themselves at the weekend so they will be in the same boat.”

Yet the even before kick-off the omens weren’t good as Derry lost prop Rory Squires who suffered a fractured cheek and broken nose in a collision during the warm-up forcing a reshuffle that saw Jason Mitchell come into loose-head prop and Stephen Duffy came onto the bench to cover prop and hooker.

No team has scored more points in Division 2B than Derry this season but when they needed a try most, their scoring touch deserted them. It was never a vintage display but first half tries from David Funston and Simon Logue had Derry 14-7 in front at the interval but the second half yielded only a second Logue try and a penalty for Derry who despite frustratingly fell short at 24-7.

“We weren’t going for the fourth try as such we wanted to win the game first, make it a three score game and then cut loose and we did,“ added McMaster, “There were opportunities there and it was one of those games that the ball was flying around and getting intercepted here and there but that’s sport and we have to suck it up and get on with it in the play-offs.”

City of Derry; Jason Mitchell, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Chris Cooper, Corey Logan, John Burns, Craig Huey, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Neil Burns, David Funston, David Graham, Ali Beckett, Replacements; Stephen Duffy, Steven Dickey, Richard Baird, Stuart Simpson, David Funston, Neil Brown