City of Derry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Armagh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
ILL-discipline both on and off the field threatened to take the shine off City of Derry’s near perfect start to their AIL Division 2B campaign and another bonus point victory at Judges Road on Saturday.
Terry McMaster’s side romped into a 27-3 lead after a dominant 40 minutes before things began to unravel and Armagh started their fightback.
While Derry held off a late surge of attacks in the final five minutes of that first half, they were camped deep inside their own half for much of the second as momentum swung heavily in favour of the Orchard County team.
But the Armagh revival was helped generously by match referee, Chris Busby who sent three Derry players to the sin-bin while seemingly overlooking a number of unsavoury incidents where Derry scrum half Andrew Semple was quite clearly singled out for special attention.
Indeed, Semple was struck by a flailing elbow before receiving a nasty kick to the face in the ruck which went unpunished by the match officials.
His day didn’t improve when he was sin-binned for reacting with a late tackle moments later seemingly out of sheer frustration and Derry were in danger of letting the win slip from their grasp as they continued to soak up pressure.
Semple was the second Derry player to see yellow following David Graham’s earlier infringement and they were soon followed into the bin by Chris Cooper as Derry continued to concede territory.
A penalty try and conversion got Armagh to within 13 points of Derry on 67 minutes as Derry continued to lose their discipline.
However, Ian Bratton’s try in the corner from the last play of the day steadied any nerves and gave the home lot a crucial bonus point victory.
An incident off the pitch at the clubhouse end regrettably forced the referee to finish the match before the conversion was taken as a sometimes ill-tempered match came to an abrupt end. Following such a dominant first half, Derry head coach, McMaster was disappointed his side failed to replicate that impressive display in the second half. And while he conceded ill-discipline almost cost his side, he bemoaned the performance of the IRFU officials whose decisions ‘influenced the game’.
“If you’re getting penalised you lose territory,” he said. “We’ll look closely at this but our performance was influenced in some ways by the official’s performance.
“We’ll look at the tape first before we make any judgement but we felt we were disciplined in the second half but we had just one penalty in our favour,” said McMaster. “At a rough estimate I would say we were on the wrong end of 13 or 14 penalty decisions.
“We’ll have a look at our own performance and the performance of the officials because there were certainly one or two instances where I felt the decision should have went our way and it went the other way. In one of those instances we ended up with a yellow card.
“And I felt they targeted Andy Semple and he was unfairly yellow carded because there was a number of incidents leading up to that. We felt there was a use of an elbow there too.”
With all that said and done, Derry are sitting pretty at the top of the table with four wins out of four and 19 points out of possible 20. There were plenty of positives to take from that first half with the Bratton and Burns brothers coming to the fore when it mattered. Neil Burns was clinical in his kicking and both he and his brother, John, weighed in with tries while Adam Bratton and his younger brother Ian - making his AIL debut - also added crucial tries which kept Armagh at arms-length.
This Derry squad has great strength in depth which hasn’t always been the case in recent years - the quality being just skin deep during previous campaigns. However, with David Houston, David Funston, Richard Baird and Ali Beckett all poised to return to the team, McMaster can afford a wry smile.
So while, the Derry boss will want to analyse the referee’s performance, he will be delighted with how his side have started their AIL campaign.
“It certainly wasn’t easy. It just seemed from the kick-off in the second half they got momentum and got penalty after penalty. We’re over the moon with the result and the start we’ve made. If someone had of offered me 19 out of 20 points four weeks ago I would have broken their arm to take it,” he concluded.
City of Derry: Ross Harkin, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Chris Cooper, Steven Dickey, John Burns, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Stuart Simpson, David Graham, Neil Brown, Neil Burns. Replacements; Chris Shields, Cathal Creggan, Rory Squires, Craig Huey, Ian Bratton.