All Ireland League Division 2A/2B Promotion-Relegation semi-final: City of Derry v Sunday’s Well (Judges Road, Tomorrow, 2.30pm)
The Grand Old Duke of York and his men have nothing on City of Derry First XV.
It hasn’t been hard to lift the players, in fact, it has been quite the reverse. There has been a real edge to training in terms of standards. The players are pushing each other on, having a go at each other if the standards look like dropping. . .Terry McMaster
First they were UP: An unbeaten run of six straight victories and 11 from their first 12 games sends Derry clear at the top of AIL Division 2B.
Then they were DOWN: Five successive defeats after Christmas opens the promotion door for nearest challengers Highfield and Sunday’s Well.
Then UP: Final day home victory over Bective looks like being enough to secure the title.
Before DOWN: Highfield incredibly score three converted tries in injury time against a weakened Bective to claim title and automatic promotion on points difference from Derry.
Yet the season of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ could yet finish as a positive as this weekend presents Terry McMaster and his troops with one final chance to reach their pre-season target of promotion back to Division 2A through the promotion/relegation play-offs which begin on Saturday with the visit of Sunday’s Well to Judges Road.
“This really is last chance saloon for us,” explained Derry Head coach Terry McMaster, “There will be no escape route on Sunday morning this time if we don’t get the job done this weekend.”
The challenge for McMaster and his coaching team is to get the players to put the disappointment and frustration of their final six games behind them. This is cup rugby now.
Easier said than done though when you consider they should never have found themselves in this position. That scintillating start to the season proved Derry have the beating of every team in 2B but five defeats in six games is a challenge to the club to prove it hasn’t lost its nerve at the most crucial stage.
“Obviously we are bitterly disappointed at how the league worked out,” added McMaster, “We were also disappointed with the manner in which Bective travelled Cork because it affected both ends of the table. To concede three converted tries in injury time is remarkable.
“None of the guest players who had turned out for Bective in the previous four games travelled to Highfield so I feel sorry for Rainey as well because those result dragged Rainey into the bottom two.
“That said, we have to take responsibility for ourselves. We were in a position where we were in control of our own fate but we have to put that behind us now. We are left with a cup scenario and every team lifts their game for cup competitions.”
Injuries and unavailability greatly hampered Derry over the past two months and McMaster will again be without influential duo Davy Houston and Stephen Corr but Chris Shields, who damaged his cruciate knee ligament back at the end of October, has made himself available.
The Cork side claimed the honours with a less than memorable 8-11 victory when the sides met at Judges Road in March but McMaster says his players are determined to finish the season on a high.
“It hasn’t been hard to lift the players, in fact, it has been quite the reverse. There has been a real edge to training in terms of standards. The players are pushing each other on, having a go at each other if the standards look like dropping which has been great to see.
“These guys have put so much effort in this season, both in the gym and on the pitch, and we don’t want to let that slip but the positive is that our destiny still remains within our own hands.
“We are treating this as a cup semi-final. Win it and we have a final to look forward to but every team will raise their game now.
“Our discipline let us down against Sunday’s Well in the league game and we have to be squeaky clean this time.
“There was a strange feeling at the whistle in the final game against Barnhall because of the circumstances but the funny things was, some of the rugby we played in that game was back to the standards we had set earlier in the season and I expect the same this weekend.”
If they can replicate that early season form in the semi-final they should be half-way back up the promotion ‘hill’!