CITY OF Derry produced a battling performance to secure an Ulster Senior Cup semi-final spot at the expense of AIL Division 1B leaders, Ballynahinch on Saturday, providing the perfect tonic for the club’s recent league woes.
Having travelled to the Co. Down venue on the back of two poor performances which yielded a solitary All-Ireland League point, coach Bevan Lynch was expecting a positive response from his squad.
And that’s exactly what he got as they methodically wore down their much-fancied opponents and overturned a 34-30 deficit with 10 minutes to go to secure their place in the last four.
It was the type of performance which could turnaround their stuttering start to the season and forwards coach, Mark Nichol was delighted to record such a morale-boosting victory ahead of an arduous trip to Towns Park to face Midleton this weekend.
“We owed ourselves and our supporters that performance and it was particularly important to gain a bit of momentum before travelling to Cork for our next AIL fixture,” said a relieved Nicol.
It was certainly a notable scalp to take at the Mountview domain and a second consecutive Ulster Senior Cup Final appearance is now a distinct possibility.
From the outset Derry showed a willingness to work hard off the ball and half-back Simon Logue had half a dozen willing runners at every breakdown ready to carry ball into the ‘Hinch defences and the strong head wind.
However, after a number of strong carries a counter-attack from Kiwi out-half, James Lash saw the scrambling Derry defence penalised for a high tackle in front of their posts. Lash converted to leave the score 3-0 after five minutes. Derry again built up a large number of phases which took them just outside the 22m before Richard Baird spotted a gap close to the ruck and split the Hinch defence before a trademark side-step left the full-back, Nicolson grasping at air.
Peoples failed to convert but he added a well hit penalty into a strong wind from 30 metres to stretch Derry’s lead to 8-3 after 19 minutes.
Despite the conditions favouring Ballynahinch they only added another penalty before it was Derry again who crossed the hosts’ line.
After defending strongly with the line speed and double tackles they repelled the hosts’ attacks and forced themselves into another attacking position.
After a series of quick rucks Funston and Barber clinically created space for Steven Corr to crash over in the corner to deservedly stretch Derry’s advantage to 13-6.
It was looking good for the visitors until a chip kick gifted possession to ‘Hinch winger Robin Harte. He carried the ball back strongly and after a series of strong carries the ball was spread wide and prop, McAlister cantered in for a converted score to tie the scores at 13-13.
As in previous weeks, Derry’s second quarter has been where most points have been conceded and this trend continued with out-half, James Lash splitting the visitors’ defence close to the ruck before showing great pace to evade the desperate defence on a tremendous 70m run.
The converted score saw ‘Hinch ease out to 20-13. Derry again failed to hold on to ball from the kick-off and another defensive error brought about the third converted try inside 10 minutes leaving the hosts with a flattering 27-13 half-time lead.
The reply was swift after the interval from the young Derry outfit and a beautiful off-the-top ball from a lineout on the halfway set the backs on the front foot and Henderson glided through the hosts’ defences. He was held up just short of the line but cleverly stayed on his feet and the arriving supporting players drove him over the line to score a try which Peoples converted to bring Derry back within one score with 35 minutes to play.
Another patient build-up saw winger, Josh Lewis find space down the right flank and man of the match, Stephen Ferguson - who made his return from injury - was on hand to barge his way over for a well taken try. Soon afterwards, Richard Baird weaved his way to the line for his second try to see Derry take a 30-27 lead.
The Division 1B league leaders where rattled and tensions exploded with the frustrated loosehead, Paddy McAllister instigating a brawl that saw inspirational captain, Sam McAuley harshly yellow carded for retaliation.
On the back of a steady supply of penalties from referee, Jonathan Peak Ballynahinch created a try on their first venture into the Derry 22 and Lash duly converted the try to give the hosts a slender 34-30 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
However, the belief that was missing in previous weeks was displayed in bucket-loads and Derry, through the guidance of substitute out-half Richard McCarter, played the game deep into the opposition’s half with a number of probing kicks.
Again, following a series of darting runs, it was McCarter who glided through the ‘Hinch defence to score close to the uprights.
His score, which he converted himself, took Derry into a 37-34 lead. McCarter then got in on the action once again when converting a difficult penalty in the 38th minute to give Derry a six point advantage.
Derry supporters were forced to endure a barrage of seven penalties, a yellow card and six minutes of injury time before referee, Peak finally rewarded Derry a deserved victory.