City of Derry’s quest for a top two finish in the All-Ireland League Division 2A was back on track on Saturday as they moved into joint second after a narrow victory over Old Wesley in Dublin.
Mark Robinson’s late penalty gave the Judges Road men the vital win by a single point - a result which will give them much needed confidence ahead of a crunch clash with leaders Galwegians in Galway on Saturday week, March 1st.
There was an early 6.30 a.m. pitch inspection at Donnybrook on Saturday by a Leinster Branch official and despite the atrocious weather conditions of the previous few days the pitch was deemed playable.
The conditions come game time were perfect with a slight breeze in glorious sunshine as Derry took the field to cheers from a massive travelling support that included the Clubs Under-13s and Under-15s who played earlier against Old Wesley and Sandford Park School respectively.
The early exchanges were brisk with both teams indicating an attacking intent and Derry looked in determined mood to put the recent blip in form in the bin.
However, it was Wesley who were first on the scoreboard as their first attack yielded a 40 metre penalty which their winger Barry McLaughlin easily converted and the Dubliners were in front by 3-0.
Captain David Funston made a great break inside the Wesley ‘22 on eight minutes and when stopped, Caithness got quick ruck ball and found Robinson. The Derry scrum half found Richard Baird 10 metres out and he, in turn, offloaded to Paul McFeely in support who crashed over for a great try. Robinson converted to give Derry a 7-3 advantage.
Derry seemed to lose their way as the half progressed with aimless defensive kicking that gave away possession cheaply. It was Wesley who were next on the scoreboard when McLaughlin kicked two penalties for offside on inside 10 minutes of each other to put the home team two points in front.
Wesley were winning territory as half-time approached and they kicked a penalty for a five metre lineout on 36 minutes. Derry were found sleeping at the lineout as Wesley produced one of their signature playbook moves with a quick throw to the front that saw second row Iain McGann stroll in for a try in the corner which was converted by McLaughlin.
Derry were back on the attack from the kick-off and when Wesley went offside to kill the ball, Robinson converted the resultant penalty and Wesley’s lead at half-time was clawed back to 16-10.
Wesley started the second half with a bang and before Derry knew it full back and captain Alan Large crowned his return from long-term injury with an unconverted try in the corner after two minutes to put his team 11 points in front.
It looked a long way back for Derry but their resolve could not be questioned as they knuckled down to reduce the deficit.
The pack were the catalyst for the comeback and when Derry won a penalty on nine minutes and went for a five metre lineout, Caithness eventually touched down for an unconverted try and the Judges Road men were back in the game 15pts to 21pts down.
Wesley increased their lead with a penalty from McLaughlin on 15 minutes while Robinson missed a difficult 45 metre shot at posts on 20 minutes and the Dubliners were ahead by 24-15 as the last quarter of the game arrived.
The remainder of the game belonged to Derry as Bob McKillop entered the fray and when Caithness switched play right to Robinson, he found David Ferguson outside and quick hands released David Houston to storm in from 30 metres to score a game changing try. Robinson converted from the touchline and Derry were just two points behind at 22pts to 24pts.
Derry infringed at the driving maul once too often and David Houston was sent to the sin bin on 25 minutes.
Wesley kicked the resultant penalty to touch when the reliable McLaughlin would surely have converted from 25 metres. And the Dubliners were soon to regret that decision as Derry turned over possession.
A penalty following a lineout 25 metres out saw Mark Robinson kick Derry in front on 32 minutes as they led by 25-24.
Houston was back from the bin and with a full complement of players Derry were now going for the juggler and a bonus point win.
Wesley were struggling to stop the Derry Juggernaut and they lost Alan Large to the sinbin on 38 minutes.
Derry opted for a five metre scrum for the resultant penalty but when the scrum collapsed first time, the referee strangely gave a defensive penalty and a golden try opportunity was gone.
Wesley coughed up two penalties 25 metres out in front of the posts in quick succession but both chances to increase the lead were scorned.
The final whistle went and the important win put Derry into joint second in the league along with Queens and Barnhall.
City of Derry - Chris Shields, David Ferguson, Paul McFeely, Stephen Corr, David Houston, Richard Baird, Stephen Dickey, Stephen Ferguson, Jack Caithness, Mark Robinson, Simon Logue, Adam Bratton, David Funston, William McCleery, Andrew Simple. Replacements: Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, Neil Burns, Josh Lewis.