Under-strength City of Derry facing Seapoint AIL test

City of Derry centre Paddy Blenerhassett is facing a spell on the sidelines after dislocating his knee last week against Bruff.
City of Derry centre Paddy Blenerhassett is facing a spell on the sidelines after dislocating his knee last week against Bruff.

AIL Division 2C: City of Derry v Seapoint (Saturday, Craig Thompson Stadium, 2.30pm)

Paul O’Kane believes Bruff provide a cautionary tale for anyone under estimating the challenge City of Derry face in All Ireland League Division 2C this season.

The Limerick club inflicted a first AIL defeat on O’Kane’s team last Saturday as Derry paid the price for 20 disjointed, second-half minutes. Win-less Seapoint are this weekend’s visitors to the Craig Thompson Stadium, a game Derry will go into minus a number of regulars including Paddy Blenerhassett who suffered a dislocated knee last week and is set to be out for 8-10 weeks.

After impressing in an opening week win against Tullamore, O’Kane was left frustrated in Kilballyowen Park as his team contrived to lose a game they were dominating. That defeat, insists the Derry coach is behind them now but if anyone doubts the importance of being able to respond to such adversity, O’Kane says they should look no further than last week’s opponents.

“Last week, the players new to the AIL saw what can happen if you lose your focus, even for 10 minutes and that was the best lesson we could have learned,” explained O’Kane, “If you drop your intensity, drop your standards, regardless of who you are playing in this league, you are going to be punished.

“From their experience of AIL 2B, some of the players were saying, there is nothing between the two divisions. This is not a ‘gimme’ league, it’s a very difficult league to be in. Indeed, in some regards, it’s more difficult than 2B because of it’s competitiveness.

“Look at Bruff. They survived relegation last season through the play-off - three minutes into injury time - when they scored a try to win by a point.

“At Christmas last season they were third, four points off first place. They lost seven games on the spin and ended up in a relegation play-off. There is nothing going to be won or lost at this time of year. You have to simply try and back up your performance each week and get to a safe points total first and foremost.”

That ‘safe’ points tally O’Kane believes indicates just how tight a division AIL 2C is.

“I believe a safe points total would be around 45 which is a huge total but if you look at last season, Bective got relegated on 37 points.

“It is going to be up and down. Everybody is going to beat each other. It’s so competitive. I know it was disappointing last week but a bigger result would be us beating Seapoint to put us on two wins from three and leave Seapoint zero from three.

“It is early doors but this is a huge game as you can already see little dynamics starting to form.”

Blenerhassett’s will be a huge loss given his superb early season form but also missing against the Dubliners is Ross Harkin (back), Gerard Doherty (shoulder), Colly Campbell (ankle), Richard Baird and Steven Duffy meaning Johnny Lyons will step up to the second row from the Seconds.

“We’ve had a bit of a nightmare week as regards injuries and we’ll be down quite a few boys this week which is a big test for the squad,” added O’Kane.

“It’s not ideal preparations but I still think there is enough around the panel.

“Seapoint are more of a ‘give it a try’ team from what I’ve heard. They have a New Zealander at 10 who likes to play ball and I don’t think they are the biggest team in the world which is a bit like ourselves. It could be quite a free-scoring game.

“Last week was disappointing but also a good learning curve. I was disappointed for the boys because I know they are better than what they showed for that 20 minute spell. Hopefully the players will be the better for the experience and show that this weekend.”