For now their league fate is out of their hands as all City of Derry eyes turn to next weekend’s Division 2A clash between U.C.C. and Ballymena at The Mardyke in Cork.
Victory for the visitors renders the final round of league fixtures obsolete as regards affairs in the top half of the Division 2A table but any other result sets up a tense finale where either of those two sides, or Derry, could find themselves promoted.
And given those final fixtures pit Ballymena against fifth placed NUIM Barnhall (who require a draw next weekend to stay in contention) and Derry against U.C.C., it could yet end in a three or possibly four-way shoot-out.
That all depends on events at the Mardyke. Derry’s job description against Seapoint on Saturday was simple; stay in the race and they achieved that against a stubborn Seapoint side whose performance belied a team still not safe from relegation.
It was a game that followed a similar style to Derry’s victory over Cashel the previous week. Non-event of a first half from a home perspective followed by a vastly improved second 40 minutes. The worry though, if you’re Head Coach Mark Nicholl, is that it is unlikely Derry will get 40 minutes to play their way into the game should they need a result in Cork.
Derry’s Achilles’ heel all season has been their kicking game, a problem compounded by the absence of regular No. 10 Richard McCarter whose ability to dictate play and position has been badly missed. Others have stepped in and done well but no-one for a sustained period.
Saturday followed that pattern. Derry started with a strong breeze behind them and Mark Robinson’s excellent early penalty had them 3-0 up and suggested play would be concentrated in the Seapoint half for the foreseeable future.
It was anything but, as Derry continuously kicked possession away to a Seapoint side whose line speed and off-loading were giving the home team problems. The home cause wasn’t helped by losing Paul McFeely to injury 12 minutes in.
With Seapoint bossing the ball and the territory, they grabbed the game’s first try following a superb forward drive which put big No. 8 Patrick Crown over. Brian Keegan converted and the visitors were 7-3 in front.
That became 12-3 two minutes before the interval when flanker Dylan Greene spotted a gaping hole in the Derry defence and stormed through the middle to leave the home team’s hopes in the balance.
Derry though are nothing if not resilient. In the face of a crippling injury list they’ve held on to their promotion hope and faced a defining half. They responded within four minutes of the restart as captain David Funston eventually got across the line in the corner after Derry looked to have passed up on the chance on at least three occasions.
The conversion was missed but the home team built on that in the 55th minute when Richard Baird scored a superb try after making an excellent break in midfield. The big flanker combined with the supporting Adam Bratton before crashing over under the posts. Semple duly converted and Derry led 15-12.
The visitors continued to press but Derry eventually broke out as the clock ticked into injury time and won themselves a penalty inside the Seapoint ‘22 from where Robinson increased the Derry lead to 18-12.
It was never pretty but it was job done. Now we wait and see.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Paul McFeely, Chris Cooper, Stephen Corr, Richard Baird, Stephen Ferguson, Jack Caithness, Mark Robinson, Simon Logue, Adam Bratton, David Funston, Josh Lewis, Andrew Semple. Replacements: Sam McAuley, Gareth Beatty, David Houston, Ross Scott, Jack Hargan.
Seapoint: Brian Lyons, Cian O’Higgans, Ciaran Allen, Mark McCoy, Conor Dolphin, Stephen Verso, Dylan Greene, Patrick Crown, Steve Carroll, Brian Keegan, Danny Ruddock, Conor Mills, Gary Foley, Conor Byrne, Ken Casey. Replacements: Paul Kelly, Damian Clarke, Michael Kerry, Brian Guerin, Sam Hanley.
Referee: John Coyle (IRFU)