Ulster Bank All Ireland League, Division 2B
City of Derry 31, Old Crescent 27
This was a statement victory. And a big one at that.
Saturday, November 12th in Rosbrien, Limerick and promotion chasing Old Crescent have just demolished City of Derry 59-0. The north west men are rooted to the foot of the All Ireland League Division 2B table and the outlook is bleak for avoiding relegation.
Fast forward a matter of weeks and the same Munster men are dealt a huge league blow by a Derry team unrecognisable from the first half of the season. The transformation is even more stark than the 63-point swing that saw Richard McCarter’s side turn that 59 point mauling into a four point victory which moves Derry level on points with third from bottom Skerries and only one behind seventh placed Bective who arrive at Judges Road next Saturday.
That is another huge game for Derry but only because of what has occurred over the past four games which have yielded four victories, something that looked impossible back in November.
And this was the most impressive of the lot.
Derry three times fought back from behind to lead and then had to withstand more than 10 minutes of injury time as Crescent piled forward in search the score that would bring them victory. It never arrived thanks in no small part to another superb defensive display which again had Terry McMaster’s fingerprints all over it.
Only nine of the squad that travelled to Limerick in November were still in the Derry squad and one who wasn’t gave another demonstration of what an astute signing he has been - scrum-half Jason Bloomfield.
It’s hard to believe the former Dungannon man almost walked away from the sport and he was superb again, probing and teasing the Crescent backs and keeping Derry on the front foot.
Bloomfield’s arrival has also seen Neil Burns released into his natural No. 10 role and he is another flourishing. After his superb performances against Dungannon, Burns contributed 21 of his sides points against Old Crescent including a brilliant individual first half try at a crucial stage with Derry down to 14 men.
But it was difficult to find someone in green not at their best. The pack was immense and produced some huge scrums with the front row of Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan and Sam Duffy getting through a Trojan amount of work. Veteran Bob McKillop came into the second row and put in some huge hits, as did Chris Cooper, Joe Dunleavy and Stephen Corr.
It was a text book start from Derry who were six points up inside 10 minutes thanks to two Burns penalties but an unfortunate spill of the ball allowed Crescent centre Paul McNamara to undo all the good work on 13 minutes when he kicked through to touch down. Shane O’Brien’s penalty meant the visitors had a lead they scarcely deserved.
Another Burns penalty edged Derry back in front again but Crescent, who were very dangerous in the loose all day, scored a second try when Larry Hanly evaded Richard Baird to make it 9-12.
Worse was to follow for Baird as he was harshly adjudged to have dangerously lifted his opposite number in the tackle and yellow carded with Hanly increasing the visitors’ lead to 2-15.
A man down, Derry responded in style. With his team mates barely settled in the dug-out, Burns gathered a defensive kick out of the Crescent ‘22’ and ran it straight back, dancing into the corner for a crucial unconverted try.
And it got even better right on half-time when a brilliantly worked Derry scrum on the right saw Ian Bratton sent clear after a dummy pass to score under the posts. Burns converted and Derry went into the break 21-15 ahead.
But Crescent have not been about the top of the table all season for nothing and responded eight minutes after half-time by forcing No. 8 Kevin Doyle over for a converted try that left them 21-22 up.
Five minutes later their pressure told again the Limerick men created a right win overload that allowed winger Val McDermott for an unconverted try and a six point lead.
A few months ago, that score might have finished Derry off but not these days.
Just past the hour mark, and after a period of pressure, Derry won a penalty in front of the posts for offside. it was an easy three points but such was the confidence in a dominant scrum, the home side took a chance and were rewarded when Baird forced his way over for the match winning try which Burns again converted.
The remainder of the match was a war of attrition which a few months ago may have beaten Derry. Even another Burns penalty three minutes into injury time could settle nerves though.
A full 10 minutes after the 80 minutes, the referee’s whistle brought an end to a thrilling match that had signals Derry are back as a force to be reckoned with for anyone in this division.
City of Derry: Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, Chris Cooper, Adam Bratton, Stephen Corr, Joe Dunleavy, Jason Bloomfield, Neil Burns, Ian Bratton, Richard Baird, David Graham, Ian Bratton, Jack Beattie. (Replacements) Eoin Ferry, Gerard Doherty, Craig Huey, Stuart Simpson, Richard McCarter.
Old Crescent: Seagon Gleeson, Darragh O’Brien, Alex Simpson, Paudie Monaghan, Cian Reale, Tevita Toia, Jack O’Neill, Kevin Doyle, Gareth Quinn McDonagh, Shane O’Brien, Kevin Meade, Larry Hanly, Paul McNamara, Val McDermott, Brian Touhy. (Replacements) Liam McMahon, Shane O’Connell, Stephen Murphy, Barry Neville, Cathal Monaghan.
Referee: Rob Watson (IRFU)