CITY OF Derry shook off any semblance of rust after their enforced three week sabbatical and returned to winning ways with a vital AIL Division Three bonus point victory over Navan at Judges Road on Saturday.
SIMON COLLINS was at Judges Road
Photographs: STEPHEN LATIMER
As the race for the title heats up, the significance of the win was clearly etched on the relieved face of City of Derry’s forwards coach, Mark Nicholl at the final whistle but he was less than impressed with several aspects of the home club’s defensive performance.
Although Derry are not renowned for making blistering starts, the prolonged weather-enforced break had clearly made an impact on the players’ match sharpness.
They were slow off the mark against the Leinster men but they stuck to their pre-match game plan and eventually got back in the groove, dusting off the cobwebs and coasting to a respectable five try victory.
It’s a case of, as you were, at the business end of the table with the top three all securing bonus point wins and Head coach, Bevan Lynch, will be hoping to kick on from this performance and maintain the pressure on Seapoint and Instonians who meet on Saturday.
Despite struggling to replicate the level of performance they produced in their 9-6 defeat to Seapoint earlier this month, Nicholl was nevertheless pleased to return to winning ways, particularly with such an important series of games on the horizon.
“It was comfortable in the end but I was a bit disappointed about how the game got a bit disjointed in the last ten or 15 minutes,” said Nicholl.
“But that’s to be expected as we’ve only played about one game in the last six weeks. We set out our stall to get five points and we achieved that, so I’m fairly happy but we’ve got plenty of work to do.”
It was an inspired 20 minute spell either side of the half-time which ensured Derry remain hotly in pursuit of the leading pack in the race for the All Ireland Division Three title, and Nicholl admitted he had expected his side to turn the screw as the interval approached.
“We knew we’d have to contain them for the first 20 or 30 minutes,” he said. “I think we did that reasonably well although our own game plan went out the window during the first 30 minutes.
“Having said that, the boys hung in there and towards the end of the half they started to take control and that was pleasing.
“That’s the nature of this team, we tend to score points just before half-time and just after half-time. The boys stick together, we know the game-plan and we just stick at it and they know eventually the gaps will come.
“I’m happy with the five points but not overall with the performance of the game. Defensively we can improve. I thought we sat back, let them come towards us and we talked about that before the game and certainly our rucking can improve as well.
“But when you score five tries to one and get your bonus point and are still not happy it says so much about this squad.”
Sluggish and Indecisive
Defensively, the home side certainly weren’t at their best in the opening stages. In fact they were at times sluggish and indecisive which allowed the visitors to exert pressure and gain territory seemingly at will.
Feeding on the mistakes and loose passes, Navan had Derry on the backfoot as the 20 minute mark approached. Having made good ground, the Leinster men were awarded a penalty when Bob McKillop was punished for an offside and Martin Coll kicked confidently between the posts from 30 yards to get the scoreboard up and running.
This stirred Derry into action and they regained their composure and began to control the game on the half hour mark.
Possession was recycled three times inside the Navan 22 before full-back Peter Henderson got in for a try to the left of the posts and with Richard Peoples converting.
Derry continued to invite pressure and almost had their lead reduced two minutes before the break when indiscipline offered Navan an excellent chance with a penalty directly in front of the posts but somehow, the Navan out-half sent his kick wide of the mark.
Eventually Derry began to churn through the gears and following a prolonged spell of pressure deep into Navan territory, the play was spread wide and Henderson released Funston who crashed over the line for an unconverted try which proved the last significant action of a disjointed first half.
Clearly the momentum was with Derry as the second half got underway and the win was sealed one minute after the restart courtesy of a skilfully engineered try from Tom Patton.
The Ulster Ravens flanker intercepted a pass on the halfway line, surged towards the line and with the Navan defence closing in, he skilfully feigned a pass to his right and sprinted under the posts for a superb individual effort, converted by Peoples.
The crucial bonus point was secured nine minutes later in some style. Simon Logue burst towards the Navan line on the left wing and the winger evaded the challenge of two retreating Navan forwards who clashed heads leaving Logue clear to run unchallenged to the line.
Peoples converted with his final contribution of the game to give Derry a comfortable 19-3 lead, and the outhalf gave way for the returning Richard McCarter.
Derry coach, Nicholl proceeded to ring the changes with Richard Baird, David Houston entering the fold but the change in personnel seemed to disrupt the fluidity of their attacks and Navan bounced back through Thomas Geraghty who crashed over the Derry line for a try converted by Coll.
The large attendance were growing anxious until Derry finally put the gloss on the win with a well worked try from a lineout deep into the Navan half on 68 minutes. The pack drove over the line with Stephen Corr touching down for an unconverted try.
Although not anywhere near their best, Derry showed glimpses of their pre-Christmas form and Nicholl pointed to the club’s strength in depth which he believes will take them through the difficult AIL schedule which lies ahead.
“The next few weeks are very, very important for us,” he said. “As we’ve kept saying all year, every member of the squad will be used and it showed that we had a very strong bench.
“Any of those guys would get into most senior sides starting first 15 so it’s very important we kept all those boys fit because we have a tough run-in.”
City of Derry - David Witherow, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, Chris Cooper, Stephen Corr, Tom Patton, Stephen Ferguson, Andrew Semple, Richard Peoples, William McCleery; Ryan Campbell; David Funston; Simon Logue; Peter Henderson. Replacements: Stephen Duffy, Stephen Simms, David Houston, Richard Baird, Richard McCarter.