IT WAS never top of the priority list, but City of Derry appeared to have next week’s date with AIL destiny on their minds as they were humbled by eight-try Ballynahinch in an uncharacteristically error-laden Ulster League performance at Judges Road on Saturday.
Michael Wilson was at Judges Road
Photographs: Jim McCafferty
With promotion from AIL Division 2 already secured, the Co. Down men arrived in the North West seeking revenge for November’s 35-12 Ulster Senior Cup mauling at the hands of Bevan Lynch’s team and from the outset, they bossed posession and were well worth the win, even if Derry contributed significantly to their own downfall.
Some strange refereeing decisions did not help the home cause but this is a game they will want to forget quickly as they seek the single point which will guarantee them a second successive promotion into the league ‘Hinch will vacate next season.
Bad decision making and unforced errors are not a good combination against any side but against the team regarded by many as the strongest in Ulster, it was a recipe for disaster and by the end Derry players were looking for the final whistle.
There were positives though as Derry once again demonstrated the ability to open up teams of any calibre but shorn of the services of Bob McKillop, Tom Patton, Simon Logue and Josh Lewis among others, this was always going to be a big ask.
The visitors included former Judges Road man Adam Bratton who was assured a hot reception from his former team mates and it was Derry who struck first in the third minute through a superb Richard Peoples penalty from 10m inside his own half.
That three-point lead came against the run of play and it did not take the visitors long to redress the balance. With the home side again penned inside their own half Richard McCarter’s kick failed to find touch allowing ‘Hinch to build though Derry seemed to have stemmed the tide when they won a scrum 5m from their own line. However the visiting pack, who held the upper hand all afternoon, won against the head before throwing wide where Johnny Cullen went over for an unconverted score.
Peoples’ second fantastic penalty from inside his own half had Derry in front again on 16 minutes and he repeated the dose on 27 minutes before Ballynahinch found another gear with two tries in six minutes as half-time approached. The first typified Derry’s day as McCarter’s attempted kick through inside the ‘Hinch 22 fell perfectly for the Down men to break and four phases later Johnny Simpson touched down. Derry again lost possession when Henderson was outnumbered in the build-up to ‘Hinch’s third try which scrum-half Harry McAleese scored and converted for a 17-9 interval lead.
Disappointing second half
‘Hinch seemed intent on doing to Derry what they normally do to visiting team which is strike in the crucial periods before and after half-time as flanker Josh Madden went over three minutes after the break with McAleese converting for 24-9.
Derry rallied though and on 49 minute they were back in the game when Richard Baird’s drive and pass to Andrew Semple saw the scrum-half danced through three tackles before outpacing the covering ‘Hinch defence to score a superb solo try from half-way. Peoples missed the conversion but just when Derry seemed back in the game they imploded to hand ‘Hinch victory on a plate.
Only four minutes after his try, Semple went from hero to villain as his indecision and poor pass gifted Michael Graham a simple intercept try which was converted by McAleese for 31-14. If that wasn’t the final nail in the Derry coffin, Ryan Campbell’s carbon-copy gift to Robin Harte on 51 minutes was and suddenly it was 38-14.
The game was all but over but to their credit Derry refused to lie down and David Funston’s try after McCarter had won a penalty did show what Derry were capable of. That was as good as it got though as jet-heeled substitute James McBriar grabbed two late tries for ‘Hinch to put the seal on an emphatic victory which should bring them first Ulster League title since the club’s maiden victory in 2009.
City of Derry: Davy Witherow, Stephen Duffy, Sam Duffy, Philip Brady, Chris Cooper, Stephen Corr, Stephen Sims, Stephen Ferguson, andrew Semple, Richard Peoples, Richard McCarter, David Funston, stuart Thompson, William McCleery Peter Henderson. Replacements: Sam McAuley, Richard Baird, Robin Craig, Philip Duffy, Ryan Campbell.
Ballynahinch: Chris Stevenson, Neil Hanna, Gary Crowe, James Simpson, John Madden, Josh Donaldson, Michael Graham, Harry McAleese, Ryan Bambry, Adam Bratton, Johnny Simpson, Johnny Cullen, Robin Harte, Adam Craig. Replacements: Mattie Nelson, Fergal Lynch, Mathew Irvine, A. Cairns, James McBriar.
Referee: Jonathan Peake (IRFU)