All City of Derry Head Coach Terry McMaster wants for Christmas is an improved defence as his Judges Road table-toppers continue their quest to clinch the AIL Division 2B title.
With nine of their scheduled 18 games completed and having now met every team in the division, Derry sit nine points clear of Greystones and 11 clear of Highfield, who have a game in hand. Despite that impressive form and their latest victory - a 32-21 bonus point win over county Derry rivals, Rainey - McMaster knows there is room for improvement and has one date marked for special attention.
If someone had offered us this position in September we would have done anything to get it.Terry McMaster
“We know we can beat everybody in this league,” explained McMaster. “The only team we lost to is Highfield and we are still sore about that because the game would have been going on for another 10 minutes had they not scored. To end a game at 4.15 p.m. is ridiculous, especially when there hadn’t been any injuries.
“So we will relish Highfield coming to Judges Road. We have inked that date into our calendar but we have a tough nut to crack first after Christmas with Seapoint because despite being bottom they’re far from the worst team in this league.
“We are delighted (with the season to date). If someone had offered us this position in September we would have done anything to get it. We looked at our ‘Points For’ in our pre-match talk and it’s outstanding. No other team in the division is anywhere near our total but we are really disappointed in our ‘Points Against’ column and that will be our big focus over the three week break. It will be about our defence and our discipline.”
McMaster admitted his side had not been at their best in the weekend win over John Andrews’ Magherafelt side but said the result was crucial going into the Christmas break.
“We have opened up a considerable gap because nobody else from that top four was playing so Highfield and Greystones will have to look at it now. I think we have a good gap on them and from a psychological point of view, that’s massive going into Christmas.
“We have three weeks now to recuperate and get into some strength and conditioning programs with our S&C coach, Joe Gallanagh, so that we come back refreshed for Seapoint at home on January 9th.”
Saturday’s game had showcased both sides of Derry’s game. In their nine games so far this season, Derry have averaged more than 29 points per game but have also conceded an average of just over 20. And again at the weekend, they let a comfortable 19-3 advantage slip in the final 10 minutes of the first half as the sides went in to the interval at 19-16 despite Derry having a spare man.
Tries from David Graham, Ali Beckett and Neil Burns had put Derry in charge with David Ferguson confirming the bonus point within three minutes of the restart but it was a performance dogged by indiscipline which threatened to allow Rainey an unlikely way back into the game.
“Yes, we were really disappointed to go from 19-3 up to that half-time score. Rainey got a guy in the bin and next thing they have kicked two penalties and scored a converted try. All of a sudden we were in a game,” added McMaster.
“(Lapses of discipline) were really disappointing and I spoke to the guys afterwards. I said, ‘You guys know who you are and you need to go home and reflect on the way you behaved out there.’ I told them they need to look in a mirror because if we are going to aspire to greater things at this club then we need to be more disciplined and some players let themselves down but they know that.
“On a positive note, we got our attacking bonus point and they got nothing from the game which was our objective. It took us a while to get there but we wanted five points and we wanted to deny them anything from the game so from that point of view, it was job done.”