CITY of Derry kept their All Ireland league Division Three promotion dream alive in the most dramatic of circumstances on Saturday when Peter Henderson’s last-gasp try secured what could be the most important victroy of Derry’s season agoinst Nenagh in Tipperary.
Trailing 17-16 deep into injury time and facing a Nenagh penalty on the half way line Derry’s chnces looked dead and buried. Nenagh out-half and probably their best player on the day, David Delaney, had the realtively simple task task of finding touch, Nenagh could then win possession and kill the game.
Delaney missed touch. Instead he kicked long and dead which meant a Derry scrum back on halfway. Seventeen phases of play and two minutes later Henderson touched down for the winning try which was converted by Richard McCarter and as the referee blew the final whistle, the scene of Derry jubilation told its own story.
Following two defeats in their last two games this was the acid test of Bevan Lynch’s squad but few shuld had doubted a group of players that have carried the club back from Junior rugby in such style. The last pulsating move of the game displayed a unity of purpose and a level of commitment that allowed the range of skills this young Derry team possess to be showcased in scoring a ‘must-get’ try that will live long in the memory of players and supporters.
Nenagh started the game with purpose on a tacky pitch that was going to sap energy all afternoon. The home 15 missed an early penalty and pressure Nenagh saw Derry wing-forward Tom Patton sin-binned only four minutes in.
Derry eventually cleared their lines and great driving play by the outstanding Stephen Ferguson brought play to the Nenagh 22. From there, two quick penalties to Derry on eight and 10 minutes for holding allowed McCarter to give Derry a 6-0 lead with the Nenagh centre Trevor Connolly going to the bin for the last offence.
Both teams were back to their full complement of players after 20 minutes and good play by Nenagh gave them extra numbers on the left wing where their big South African winger, Ger Harmse, got in for an unconverted try to leave the score 6-5.
Derry were playing all the quality rugby with the physicality of the visiting pack upped several notches from previous weeks with Bob McKillop and David Houston scrapping for every ball. The front row was solid all through and were lead by captain Sam McAuley who got outstanding support form props Chris Shields and Sam Duffy.
The Derry back row were outplaying their opposite numbers.Patton was having his best game for some time at open side wing forward and with strong physical tackling from Stephen Corr at blindside it allowed Ferguson the opportunity to make some strong runs that caused consternation in the home defence.
The Derry pressure resulted in home captain and loose head prop Mick Kennedy being binned on 35 minutes and the extra man was exploited immediately when Ferguson drove forward 30m into the Nenagh 22 where quick ball by scrum-half Andrew Semple allowed McCarter time and space to spot the gap and ghost in for a well worked, unconverted try to have Derry leading 11-5 at the break.
Nenagh started the second half with a strong wind advantage and were on the scoreboard within three minutes with an unconverted try from Shane O’Callaghan to bring it back to the minimum between the teams.
The game ebbed and flowed for the next 30 minutes with great defence from Derry, the midfield axis of David Funston and Ryan Campbell putting their bodies on the line and out-muscling their opponents.
It looked grim for Derry when Nenagh got in for a converted try on 70 minutes when a missed tackle from Derry allowed full-back Steve Carey in for a try which was converted by David Delaney to leave Derry trailing by 11-17.
However Lynch’s men upped their game as ‘Man of the Match’ McCarter made some searing breaks that sliced open the Nenagh defence. McCarter produced another telling break with five minutes remaining to ghost in behind the defensive line where he found Josh Lewis on the left wing. Lewis drew his man before passing inside for Simon Logue to score an unconverted try that left Derry only one point behind.
The game was deep in injury time when Derry produced their Houdini act following a scrum on the half way line. Every man on the pitch was involved, including Stephen Duffy who had come on for Chris Shields. Duffy enjoyed several good drives with that man McCarter directing the movement. He eventually found Richard Baird who had come on for Ferguson, Baird taking the ball forward to setup a ruck from which Semple quickly passed to Simon Logue who then found Henderson on the outside to score a memorable try and Derry’s promotion bid breathed again.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, David Houston, Stephen Corr, Tom Pattton, Stephen Ferguson, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Josh Lewis, Ryan Campbell, David Funston, Simon Logue, Peter Henderson. Replacements: Stephen Duffy, Chris Cooper, Richard Baird, Stephen Simms, Richard Peoples.