CITY OF Derry coach, Mark Nicholl has surprised many with his team selections this season and he plans on ‘shaking it up’ once again as his side return to All-Ireland League duty against Old Wesley at Judges Road tomorrow. (Kick-off 2.30 p.m.)
SIMON COLLINS reports
The Derry boss is in the process of making his own imprint on the Judges Road side and his decision to deploy skipper, David Funston in the back row is already paying dividends.
Funston was a key player under former head coach, Bevan Lynch at outside centre but, having installed him as captain this season, Nicholl rates him as a quality wing forward who will add an extra dimension to his forward line.
Nicholl continues to experiment and has played the impressive Adam Bratton in the back row and he feels the pair will spice up the competition for places within the squad.
“We’re always trying to improve the squad and when the squad becomes a bit stale and people start to think a position belongs to them,” explained Nicholl.
“So I always try to shake things up a bit and I think we’ve got a real couple of finds this year.
“Adam Bratton moving into the back row has been a revelation and he will put a bit of pressure on some of the back row boys like Stephen Corr, Richard Baird and Tom Patton.
“Moving David Funston into the back row is something I wanted to do last year with Bevan (Lynch) but Bevan seen him as a first choice 13 so he wasn’t keen to move him.
“These are ideas that I’ve had for a while and now I’m implementing them and we’ll see how they go.
“Funston is a very, very good rugby player and a very smart one. The first game against Armagh he came out with the ‘man of the match’ award which was brilliant for him.
“He’s the type of boy that likes the physicality side of the game so I always thought the back row would suit him.
“Even last Saturday I was very impressed with him in the back row and having watched the video again he’s definitely fitted in very nicely.
“He’s still learning a lot of things that he has to pick up on yet but that will come with experience in that position.”
Following their opening AIL victory of the season against Seapoint, Derry have hit form with recent wins against Ulster rivals Armagh in the league cup quarter-final giving them a bit of momentum going into tomorrow’s game.
Old Wesley have matched Derry’s AIL results with a win and draw so far and Nicholl is expecting a tough challenge from the Dubliners.
“I’m anticipating a tough game because they beat Seapoint with a last minute try but there’s no easy game in the All-Ireland,” added the Derry coach.
“The fact they are travelling up here and staying overnight on Friday night suggests they are getting themselves well prepared and it should be a good game on Saturday.”
Having lost their opening AIL game at Judges Road to UCC, Nicholl is determined to make the Waterside venue a tough place for visiting teams.
“The plan is to make Judges Road a tough place to come because at the minute our away form is better than our home form,” he said.
“Certainly if we have aspirations of trying to do really well in this league then a home win must be considered a must.
“We changed the squad quite a bit in Armagh and to be fair to the players they all stepped up to the plate.
“But we go into the game in good form and we’ve been training hard so I’m confident that on Saturday we’ll be ready to go.”
On the team front, Wille McCleery, Josh Lewis and Richard Baird remain sidelined otherwise Nicholl has a full squad to select from.
This will be the 10th AIL fixture between the two clubs and so far Derry have had the better of the exchanges, having won six and lost four.
Old Wesley suffered a heavy defeat in their last AIL game away to Banbridge when they went down 54-21 so they certainly won’t be relishing the trip North again.
City of Derry - Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan, David Ferguson, Gareth Beattie, Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely, Steven Jefferson, Sam Duffy, James Fawcett, Brian Prue, David Houston, Adam Bratton, Tom Patton, Stephen Corr, Richard Baird, Chris Barber, Andrew Semple, Richard Peoples, Adam Parke, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell, David Funston, Josh Lewis, Peter Henderson, Jack Caithness.