Nicholl wants to finish AIL season on a high

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CITY of Derry Head Coach Mark Nicholl is refusing to rule out a third place AIL Division 2A finish as he plots victory over Midleton this weekend in the Judges Road side’s final home fixture of the campaign (k.o. 2.30pm).

Michael Wilson reports

Last weekend’s dramatic late victory over Greystones in Wicklow, secured courtesy of a late Richard Baird try, moved Derry into the top four with two games to play but Nicholl believes it is still possible to catch third placed U.C.C. who are eight points ahead. The Cork side face two tough final fixtures against the league’s top two teams and should they slip, Nicholl wants his team in a position to capitalise

“It’s our last home game so we are looking for a big performance from the team,” explained Nicholl, “We have got into the top four, which was our target, and we intend to stay there now.

“There is still a chance we could make third. U.C.C still have to play Terenure and Corinthians -which will not be easy as those two are tied at the top and trying to win the title - so anything could happen there but we still have a job to do ourselves. We will be concentrating on our own games, try to finish with two wins and see where that takes us.”

Derry have injury concerns over scrum-half Jack Caithness and Tom Patton with Caithness hoping to overcome a dead leg before the weekend but Patton is set to miss out. On the plus side, Davy Houston is expected to shake off the ill effect of a flu in time to make himself available.

Midleton sit second bottom at present, 23 points behind Derry but despite going into the game as overwhelming favourites Nicholl is taking nothing for granted.

“Despite where Midleton are in the league we are expecting a tough battle on Saturday. “We went down to Greystones last week and for the first 20 minutes or so they were the hungrier team and I’m expecting something similar from Midleton this weekend. They have two games left to save their season and are fighting for their Division 2A lives so we will get nothing easy, no matter how the league table looks.

“You have to match the intensity these teams bring to the game but if we get our attitude right, I am confident we have the players to get the job done.”

A trip to old Crescent will complete Derry’s AIL season though Nicholl’s men still harbour hopes of an Ulster Senior League victory. Derry and Midleton have played each other four times since they first met back in season 2000/01 in AIL 2 and honours are even with two wins each.

Derry travelled to Midleton last year in early October and came away battered and bruised after a 24-14 defeat but Derry have won seven of their last eight games since the turn of the year.

Nicholl meanwhile paid tribute to the club’s Second XV who will try to secure the Town’s Cup on Easter Monday against Ballyclare at Ravenhill, something the Head coach says illustrates the progress being made at Judges Road.

“It is fantastic to see what the Second XV have achieved in The Towns’ Cup this season and the final will be a great day out for everyone at the club. I don’t like referring to the ‘Seconds’ because we work off a ‘Firsts Squad’ basis rather than a separate first and seconds panels but it shows the club is moving in the right direction.

“Remember, the First XV won this cup in 2009 and now we are in a situation where the Second XV are competing in the final. That shows the hard is paying off and it is richly deserved reward for James Doherty who does so much great work around the club.

“They players have earned their place in the final with some excellent displays and hopefully they can go one step further and bring the trophy back to Judges Road,” added Nicholl

City of Derry; Steven Jefferson, Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely, David Houston, Chris Cooper, Richard Baird, Stephen Corr, Stephen Ferguson, Simon Logue, Richard McCarter, William McCleery, David Funston, Chris Barber, Ryan Campbell, Peter Henderson. Replacements; David Ferguson, Gareth Beatty, Chris Shields, David Graham.