CITY of Derry Head Coach Mark Nicholl admitted the second half loss of captain David Funston to knee injury almost cost his side victory as the Judges Road men held off Old Wesley to register their second AIL win of the season on Saturday.
Michael Wilson was at Judges Road
Photographs: Phil Gamble
The bonus point victory moves Nicholl’s men up to fifth in Division 2A, five points behind leaders Banbridge but it was a victory which should have been more comfortable than it was. Simon Logue’s superb 73rd minute try, instigated by Chris Barber’s brilliant tackle and turn over of possession finally put pay to an Old Wesley fight back that was threatening to spoil the party.
Coasting 27-10 at half-time after an excellent first half, Derry were forced to dig deep as the loss of Funston, coupled with three yellow cards handed the initiative back to the visitors who took advantage of the home side’s indiscipline. The harsh sin-binning of Adam Bratton, Chris Shields and Brian Prue at various stages of a ‘backs-to-the-wall’ second period saw Derry play for 25 of the 40 minutes with, first 13, and then 14 men.
The yellow cards allowed Wesley - with the extra men - to dominate a scrum which had previously been comfortable for Derry but when they needed a response, Logue provided it. With Wesley bringing the game back to 27-24 and piling forward at every opportunity, the excellent Barber won good ball on Derry’s right hand side close to half-way when he had no right to win it. In a flash, Andrew Semple fed it left to Richard McCarter provided the vision and technique to throw an exquisite ‘miss’ pass wide to Logue on the wing. The early pass allowed Logue to freedom to run and the winger did just that, outpacing the Wesley cover with ease to run in under the posts and seal a victory that was becoming increasingly unlikely.
Game won but the collective sighed of relief at Logue’s try told just how close Wesley had come. Pivotal to that revival had been the early second half departure of Derry’s captain who - along with Adam Bratton - was once again shining in his new role of flanker and Nicholl now faces an anxious wait to see his captain will be available for this weekend’s visit of Corinthians.
“Davy picked up the knee injury and there was a bit of concern,” explained Nicholl, “Thankfully he seemed to have full movement and we are hoping it is only a sprained ligament but it looks like he could be out for a couple of weeks. I thought we started to struggle when Funston went off to be honest. He is a very good player and a great reader of the game but we have other people there who can step in and do the job if he is ruled out.”
The Derry coach said the second half once again demonstrated the character within his side but claimed there were aspects of the performance which they will look at in training this week.
“The second half showed the character in the panel and there are a lot of good characters in the squad but we can’t keep making life difficult for ourselves. We should have been looking to put 40 or 50 points on a side like that, so that was a disappointing aspect but the players showed great character to get back into the game and eventually win it.
“We played at least eight minutes with six men in the pack so obviously we hadn’t the bulk there to compete for that stage but to be fair the players they hung in until we got the lads back on. It was disappointing to concede the late try in the manner we did and we will have to have a chat with a few of them this week because it looked like there were a few tired bodies. Having said that, when you play with 13 or 14 men for so long, you’re asking players to carry extra burden so maybe caught up with them.”
Nicholl admitted his relief at seeing Logue get in for the insurance try but said he believed at least two of the yellow cards were tough on his team.
“Simon had a couple of good runs before his try and we’d been asking him to chip the ball over their back line and put them under a bit of pressure but it was good to see him get over the line because we should have had the game sewn up long fore then.
“We had two sin-binning incidents, both from knock-ons which was disappointing. Whether you like the decisions or not, you have to deal with them but I thought Bratton’s was harsh, even Brian Prue’s was harsh, as they had two charge downs and there wasn’t even a penalty given against them let alone cards but that’s the way the game goes sometimes and you have to deal with it.
“It’s a win and that’s what we came to do. I’m sure Welsey are slightly disappointed but we have to look after ourselves and we got the bonus point win.”
Derry’s flowing first half was in stark contrast to the battle ground which the second became. As early as the second minute good work from Davy Houston allowed Tom Patton to release Peter Henderson who ran in under the posts with Barber converting before added a penalty three minutes later.
It was 17-0 on 18 minutes when McCarter’s precision kick into the corner set-up good field position from which Derry first lost possession before regaining it after a Wesley spill and Bratton powered over with Barber again converting.
Conor Stynes pulled a try back for the visitors with Barry McLaughlin adding the extras but Derry, and Barber in particularly, were not to be denied. The centre scored his second penalty on 33 minutes before touching down for a try three minutes later which he converted. Wesley did register with a penalty on the stroke of half-time but at 27-10 there looked only one winner at the break.
Funston’s departure, along with the yellow cards and a reinvigorated Wesley, changed that complexion but despite three second half tries from the visitors Derry dug deep to continue climbing the 2A table.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely, David Houston, Chris Cooper, Adam Bratton, David Funston, Tom Patton, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell, Chris Barber, David Graham, Peter Henderson. (Replacements) David Ferguson, Gareth Beattie, Stephen Corr, Brian Prue, Richard Peoples.
Old Wesley: David Henshaw, Jamie Boyle, James Burton, Ivan Pirree, Iain McGann, Darren Horran, Ben Horan, Neil Beirne, Ian Cassidy, Alan Large, Barry McLaughlin, David Potterton, Steve Harvey, Conor Stynes, Ciaran Hurrell. (Replacements) Colin Wallace, Ken Knaggs, John Carroll, Rory Stynes, Steve Boyle.
Referee: Simon McDowell (Ulster Branch)