CASSANOVA was visiting but the Judges Road ‘love story’ on Saturday centred around another City of Derry comeback and this one was epic!
Michael Wilson was at Judges Road
Photographs: Jim McCafferty
With 80 minutes on the clock, Mark Nicholl’s men seemed to have conspired to lose a game they had already won. So they went and won it again with two tries straight out of a Hollywood script. This superb spectacle had everything; free flowing, expansive rugby, excellent tries, determined defending, pivotal mistakes and - from a Derry point of view - the perfect fairy-tale finale.
The home side took a 13-12 lead into half-time courtesy of tries from Brian Prue and Simon Logue and a penalty, into a difficult swirling breeze, from the impressive Chris Barber whose influence on this Derry team continues to grow. Even in the opening 40 minutes the lead changed hands as the aforementioned Cassanova - Corinthians flanker Aurillan Cassanova that is - set up Sean Gerrity and James Buckley for scores that had the Galway side in front 12-5 after 18 minutes. But it was nothing compared to the second half.
That started with a fully deserved yellow card for Corinthians second row Mark Byrne who came in at the side of a ruck to deliberately kick the ball away as Derry were looking to build an attack. It was only a stay of execution for the visitors though as within three minutes Derry scored. McCarter’s excellent kick into the corner brought a line-out from which Derry failed to secure the ball. However a series of handling errors on both sides presented Ryan Campbell with the chance to pick up the loose ball and forced his way over at the foot of the post.
On 58 minutes, Derry dominance in the scrum was again evident as they won against the head on half-way. The ball was worked left to Richard McCarter who picked out Peter Henderson close to the line with space at a premium. The full-back, who was captaining the team in the absence of the injured David Funston, produced a precision kick to perfectly compliment the electric pace of Logue who went past three visiting backs en route to winning the race for the touch down. That try made it 25-12 and with 20 minutes remaining Derry merely needed to see the game out. They didn’t, at least not at this time of asking.
Buckley got in for his second try on 66 minutes as Derry’s concentration began to lapse but on 71 minutes things got worse when Aengus O’Connell took advantage of further indecision in the Derry defence to score under the posts with Derry claiming a ‘knock-on’. O’Flynn converted both and suddenly Derry trailed 25-26.
With five minutes left Corinthians, who came into this game unbeaten and lying third, seemed to put the game to bed with Buckley again the man on hand - albeit from a suspiciously offside position - to take advantage as Henderson lost his footing when gathering a long kick forward. That converted try made it 33-25 and the visitors celebrated like it was game over. Only it wasn’t.
Derry refused to buckle but even when Cathal Cregan showed great strength to force his way over with the aid of the pack, the clock had already hit 80 minutes and Derry remained three points adrift.
But Cregan’s score had re-ignited the Derry fires. When referee Gary Conway signalled a Derry penalty two minutes into injury time there was no thought of a kick for goal. McCarter planted it in the corner and from the ensuing line-out Derry went through the phases, grinding Corinthians down with each drive. There were 83 minutes 40 seconds on the clock when Corinthians resistance finally snapped, winger David Graham the hero as he dived over in the corner after sustained pressure had sucked in most of the Galway side’s backs.
The kick didn’t matter but this victory will. It keeps Derry in fifth place in the table but crucially only one point behind second placed Corinthians and level with third placed Terenure who Nicholl’s side meet in a fortnight.
It wasn’t always pretty, Derry exciting and frustrating in almost equal measures at times but this victory keep the Judges Road men in contention at the top. What it also demonstrated was the increased strength in depth available to Mark Nicholl and Ashley Blair. Absent on Saturday were Funston, Richard Baird, Chris Cooper and William McCleery among others. Those that came off the bench on Saturday all made their presence felt and probably dragged their team over the line. That depth will be vital as Derry approach vital fixtures in November and December but this squad won’t be found wanting for character.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely, David Houston, Brian Prue, Adam Bratton, Tom Patton, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell, Chris Barber, David Graham, Peter Henderson. (Replacements) Cathal Cregan, Gareth Beattie, Steven Jefferson, Bob McKillop, Richard Peoples.
Galway Corinthians: Finalay Bealham, Kevin O’Byrne, Tom Tolan, Mark Byrne, Ultan Dillane, Aurillan Cassanova, Sean Gerrity, Aaron Conneely, Steve Bruce, Mick O’Flynn, Owen Daly, Finn Gormley, James Buckley, Bryan Dickson, Darren Classens. (Replacements) Mark Lee, Brain Murphy, Eric Flynn, Mattie Flynn, Aengus O’Connell.
Referee: Gary Conway (IRFU)