City of Derry’s Richard Baird scored a late winning try as Mark Nicholl’s side stormed back from a 14 point deficit to secure an unlikely All-Ireland League win against Greystones in Co. Wicklow on Saturday afternoon.
It was a hard fought victory which had looked out of reach for most of the game as the Judges Road men struggled to reproduce their recent good form.
However, they narrowly missed out on a bonus point in the last action of the game when David Graham was bundled into touch just short of the line as Derry produced a stirring comeback.
The game went ahead after a pitch inspection on Friday afternoon as the ground was waterlogged the previous night.
And with N11 closed due to flooding it was a surprise when the news came through that the game was to go ahead and that would explain Derry’s stuttering start to the game.
Greystones, considering their position of second from bottom of the league table, stunned the visitors when emerging all guns blazing from the offset.
The opening 20 minutes were bossed by the Wicklow men as Derry found it difficult to get their hands on the ball.
The Greystones outhalf Andrew Kealy controlled the game early with good line kicking on the back of quality ball from his dominant pack as he kept the scoreboard ticking over.
The home team seemed to get a crucial penalty each time they got within kicking distance and Kealy added three penalties for offside infringements to take a nine points lead.
The Derry scrum was dominant throughout with Stephen Jefferson, Sam McAuley and Sam Duffy in the front row having the upper hand on their opponents, ably supported by Chris Cooper and Stephen Corr in the second row.
Derry played themselves back into the game and from a solid scrum in their own half Jack Caithness found fullback Simon Logue who made a great run deep into the Greystones half and, when stopped, the home side were offside at the breakdown.
Richard McCarter kicked the resultant penalty from 35 metres and in the process reduced the deficit to six points with 27 minutes gone.
Derry were caught offside again when Greystones got into the red zone on 32 minutes and Kealy kicked a penalty from 30 metres and the home side were in front 12-3.
Greystones then won a scrum 30 metres from the Derry line and quick ball allowed their scrumhalf Roddy Carroll to chip behind the Derry defence. Their wing forward, Alan Dempsey touched down wide out for an unconverted try and a 17pts to 3pts lead for the home team.
Derry Coach, Mark Nicholl brought Chris Shields on at loose head prop for Jefferson and the vistors eventually enjoyed a period of possession in the Greystones’ half. When Derry won a five metre scrum on the Greystones line the pack produced when required with four dominant scrums in a row which were collapsed from pressure by Greystones and on the fifth infringement the referee awarded a penalty try.
Richard McCarter converted and Derry got to the break facing a seven point deficit.
Greystones again started the second half strongest and missed a kickable penalty after two minutes.
The penalty count against Derry was increasing as Greystones kicked a penalty into the corner to set up real pressure after 10 minutes.
Continual Derry infringement saw Chris Cooper sent to the sin-bin and Kealy kicked the resultant penalty for a 20-10 lead after 13 minutes. Paul McFeely came on for Derry to replace Sam Duffy and as the game entered the final quarter and the Judges Road men suddenly clicked into gear.
Derry won a lineout through Chris Cooper outside the Greystones 22 after 24 minutes of the second half. Man of the match, Stephen Ferguson took the ball forward once more and when the ball was eventually recycled, Richard Baird got in for a try which was converted by Richard McCarter and Derry were right back in the game.
David Ferguson again made a great run to show incredible pace on 27 minutes and it almost resulted in a try.
Derry won a 30 metre penalty 30 minutes in but decided to kick to the corner. Cooper won the lineout and Derry drove for the line. Three infringements later and Greystones had their tight head prop, Bobby Clancy sent to the bin.
There was a hold up in play as Greystones through substitutions had manufactured a situation where the game had to go to uncontested scrums and deny Derry a push over try with such a dominant scrum.
Fortune favoured the brave and Derry were not to be denied as Richard Baird got in to touch down for a try from the uncontested scrum and with McCarter converting Derry were in front for the first time by 24-20.
Greystones had no more to offer and Derry dominated the final 10 minutes which saw David Graham just bundled into touch just short of the line in the last play of the game when a try would have given Derry a bonus point victory.
City of Derry’s last home All Ireland League game of the season is at home next Saturday against Midleton with a 2.30 p.m. kick-off.
City of Derry- Steven Jefferson, Sam McCauley, Sam Duffy, Stephen Corr, Chris Cooper, Tom Patton, Richard Baird, Stephen Ferguson, Jack Caithness, Richard McCarter, William McCleery, David Funston, Chris Barber, Ryan Campbell, Simon Logue; Replacements; David Ferguson, Paul McFeely, Chris Shields, David Graham, Peter Henderson.
Towns Cup Final
City of Derry seconds will play Ballyclare in the Towns Cup Final on Easter Monday at Ravenhill.
The club will be running a supporters bus to the game for £10 return. Anyone wishing to book a place on the bus contact Mike Poole on 07725957407.