CITY of Derry bounced back from their recent poor run of form to produce a superb second half performance and register an excellent Ulster Senior League victory over AIL Division 2A leaders Banabridge at Rifle Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Judges Road men had lost their last six competitive fixtures and with an extended injury list which was compounded by a serious ankle injury to loose head prop Chris Shields last Thursday night, the omens were not good considering Banbridge have only lost once in AIL 2A this season.
Banbridge were quickly into their stride and following a scrum on half-way they showed exactly why they have been doing so well when great support play amongst their backs and forwards resulted in blind-side wing forward Dale Carson scoring an unconverted try. Unfortunately for Derry Adam Parke appeared to pull up with a hamstring injury meaning Chris Barber had to enter the fray.
The Co. Down men scored again on 18 minutes when centre Andy Morrison picked a good line to score another unconverted try for a 10-0 lead. Derry eventually won some decent possession and were gradually coming back into the game but they were were unable to pierce a well organised Banbridge defence.
Derry lost control on 25 minutes inside the Banbridge ‘22’ and possession was turned over. Derry infringed a number of times at the breakdown and when Richard McCarter was caught offside once more the referee had no hesitation in sending him to the sin-bin. The resulting penalty was slotted over by the Banbridge’s Ian Porter who was pivotal in all that Banbridge were doing and the lead was 13-0.
Peter Henderson was now playing at out-half and Derry started to show more attacking flare with Simon Logue and Barber making excellent breaks. However, Derry again pressed the self destruct button when Brian Prue joined McCarter in the bin for an infringement in the line out. More indifferent Derry defending allowed Banbridge second row Chris Allen to score a try under the posts on 35 minutes and with Porter converting the half time score was an ominous 20-0. To compound matters, Derry lost centre Ryan Campbell with a leg injury on the stroke of halftime and he was replaced by William McCleery. Derry Head Coach Mark Nicholl and his assistant Ashley Blair must have had some strong words at half time as there was an evident change in intensity in the second half.
Derry were now controlling the game and were rewarded when No. 8 Tom Patton drove over from short range on 45 minutes for a deserved try which was converted by Henderson to cut the lead to 20-7.
Derry introduced David Witherow and Sam McCauley and they, along with second row, Bob McKillop led by example to inspire the rest of the team. The scrum was dominant and the physical aggression at breakdown and in the loose just blew Banbridge away. There was one more score left in Banbridge and that came on 49 minutes when Morrison again took advantage of missed tackles to touch down for a 25-7 lead.
However, Derry took full control for the remainder of the half and the Judges Road men were on the scoreboaed again on 55 minutes when captain David Funston made a great break and offloaded to Barber who strode in under the posts. Henderson converted and Banbridge led 25-14.
The fightback was now well and truly on as McAuley, McKillop and Witherow were running loose, carrying ball and intimidating the opposition. Banbridge had no answer and when Simon Logue put pressure on Porter on 60 minutes, he fumbled the ball over his own line and Stephen Corr pounced to touch down for a try. Henderson converted and suddenly the score was 25-21 in favour of a now very tired Banbridge side.
McCleery scored another excellent Derry try on 75 minutes which resulted from strong driving play by the Derry pack and good handling by the backs. Henderson converted from out wide and Derry were now ahead for the first time by 28-25.
Derry continued to attack a beleaguered Banbridge team and winger David Graham showed great pace and strength to score an unconverted try in the corner on the stroke of full time, leaving the final score 33-25 as an ecstatic Derry team and travelling support celebrated.
This second half fight back will hopefully be a turning point in Derry’s season and give renewed confidence for next week’s visit of Queens University to Judges Road for an All Ireland League fixture.
City of Derry - Steven Jefferson, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, Brian Prue, Stepehen Corr, David Funston, Tom Patton, Jack Caithness, Richard McCarter, David Graham, Ryan Campbell, Adam Parke, Simon Logue, Peter Henderson. Replacements - Sam McAuley, David Witherow, Richard Baird, Chris Barber, William McCleery.