CITY OF DERRY were forced to come from behind three times and withstand a desperate late onslaught before securing a precious, four-point AIL Division 2A victory over Clonakilty in Vale Park, West Cork
The win, Derry’s fifth in succession in all competitions, continues Derry’s recent revival and moves Bevan Lynch’s team up to 11th against a Clonakilty team whose performance belied their bottom of the table position.
Incessant rain before the game made for an extremely heavy pitch which was not going to be ideal for Derry’s expansive style of play but the early pressure still came from the visitors. Stephen Ferguson produced a powerful drive that should have resulted in a score five minutes in when he was just brought down short of the line with his support players being obstructed on the blind side of the referee.
Clonakilty played themselves into the game with a typical Munster rugby performance that complemented the pitch condition. They held onto the ball for long periods and were rewarded with a penalty in front of the post on 20 minutes which full back Matt Kirby converted for a three point lead.
Derry replied with a penalty of their own on 23 minutes when Ferguson once again showed power and pace to get in behind the home defence and when their backs were caught offside, Richard McCarter kicked his side level.
McCarter capitalised on more Derry pressure after 30 minutes when he produced an exquisite cross-field kick that almost saw captain Sam McAuley get in for a try but the Clonakilty back line had strayed offside and McCarter kicked Derry into a 6-3 lead from the resultant penalty.
The remainder of the half was spent in Derry territory with the Clonakilty pack exerting sustained pressure which was repelled by some outstanding Derry defence. Stephen Corr and Ferguson, along with David Houston and David Witherow, tackled as if their lives depended upon it to keep home XV at bay. Clonakilty prop Ryan Purcell finally got in for an unconverted try in the corner on the stroke of half time to leave his side marginally in front 8-6 going into the break.
Derry started the second half in whirlwind fashion and when Clonakilty kicked loose ball to McCarter on half way three minutes after the restart, the out-half ran the ball straight back using Simon Logue on the wing as decoy and was suddenly under the posts for a try without being touched. McCarter converted himself and Derry’s lead was 13-8.
Derry were back on the scoreboard three minutes later when Chris Shields, Sam McAuley and Sam Duffy helped to out-scrum the opposition just inside their own half and ball against the head was quickly taken forward by No 8 Ferguson who found Peter Henderson in support. The full-back released Logue who stepped inside his opposite winger and when he drew the cover, David Funston was on hand to score a great team try for an 18-8 lead.
Derry lost Stephen Corr to the sin bin after 54 minutes and three minutes later sustained Clonakilty pressure allowed winger Kieran Howlin to break through the Derry defence for a deserved try which Matt Kirby converted to once again leave the game in to mix at 18-15.
Derry were further penalised on 58 minutes when Stephen Ferguson’s sin binning saw them reduced to 13 and they had to work hard to keep Clon at bay. Funston and Ryan Campbell were heroic in defence, continually putting their bodies on the line with great support from Logue, McCarter, William McCleery and Andrew Semple. Despite the heroics though, Clonakilty took the lead on 66 minutes when substitute Gary Shannon touched down for a try following good forward play. With Kirby converting, Clon led 22-18.
It was now anyone’s game and when McCarter slotted over a penalty after 70 minutes the home lead was down to a single point. Derry were back in the ascendency on 72 minutes when a loose kick was once again the undoing of Clonakilty. Henderson fielded the ball and,, not for the first time linked with Logue on the left wing who found Houston in support. He released Funston who in turn created the space for ‘Man of the Match’ Stephen Corr to touch down for and unconverted try and a match-winning 26-22 lead for Derry.
Derry defended their lead with outstanding tenacity and courageous tackling until the end, ensuring that they continue their climb up the All Ireland League Division 2A table ahead of next week’s encounter with second placed De Le Salle Palmerstown.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, David Houston, David Witherow, Stephen Corr, Johnny Lyons, Stephen Ferguson, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, David Funston, Ryan Campbell, William McCleery, Peter Henderson. Replacements: Cathal Cregan, Gareth Beatty, Stephen Duffy, Adam Parke, Richard Peoples.