AIL Division 2C
City of Derry 19, Thomond 13
A flying start and a grand stand finish gave City of Derry a first victory in three All Ireland League games as Stephen Corr's late try secured a tense six point victory over bottom of the table Thomond at the Craig Thompson Stadium on Saturday.
Tries from Alec McDonnell, David Lapsley and that late Corr effort keep Derry seventh but the win takes them six points clear of the Munster club and second from bottom Seapoint with Tullamore four points behind Paul O'Kane's team in eighth.
With four successive games to come against the League's current top two, Ballina and Bruff, the effect of Saturday's result will be a timely boost for a team looking to rebuild confidence after that disappointing run. This was never pretty and at times Derry rode their luck against a huge physical Thomond side for whom scrum-half Evan Cusack was superb and contributed all 13 of his side's points.
Derry Head Coach Paul O'Kane hasn't hidden his feelings concerning those three defeats and prior to kick-off, he openly questioned his team's desire to remain a senior AIL club but the answer he received was emphatic. Emphatic not in terms of style, but certainly in terms of guts.
This win had desire stamped all over it.
With their manager's pre-match call to arms ringing in their ears, Derry started superbly, forcing Thomond Jordan O'Donnell to knock on from the kick-off and from there they maintained a stranglehold which eventually forced McDonnell's ninth minute opening try.
And what a lovely piece of individual skill it was from the Derry fly-half. With Thomond penned inside the '22, metres from their own line, McDonnell's beautiful 'chip and chase' found space were none previously existed and the Derry No. 10 won the sprint to touch down for a lovely try which he also converted for a seven point lead.
Cusack had already missed one penalty by the time he registered Thomond's first points from another. Those three points were to be followed by another three, again from the boot of Cusack as Thomond responded impressively to the McDonnell try.
Even a yellow card for visiting No. 8 Jordan O'Donnell following a late tackle couldn't disrupt the Thomond dominance but that was being met by Derry defiance and a vastly improved defensive display and the side turned around with just one between them.
The Munster side's started the second half as Derry had the first and looked to be in at the corner only for Keelan Stephenson's joy to be cut short by an eagle eye touch judge who spotted a foot in touch.
That frustration didn't last though. Five minutes into the half and with Derry still struggling to get out of their 22, they were undone by a classic Thomond set-piece. A long throw at a 10m line-out saw prop Eoin O'Neill run off the back of the line-out to barge his way to the posts before off-loading to a Cusack who finished and converted for a 7-13 lead.
Derry were on the ropes. Thomond came again looking to make the game safe but when the questions were asked, Derry found the answers, something which will have pleased O'Kane more than even the result.
Thomond were attacking 15m inside the Derry half when a rare stray pass was seized upon by the excellent Lapsely and for Thomond he was the worst possible outcome. With the visiting full-back having joined the attacking line, the only question concerned pace and Lapsley has it in bucket loads as he ran in under the posts. With McDonnell converting Derry were back in front by the minimum at 14-13.
Cusack's uncharacteristically missed a straightforward penalty to put his team back in front but it was Derry who finished stronger.
Derry scrum was enjoying the better of things as the huge Thomond pack started to tire. Visiting centre David O'Halloran was also yellow carded as Thomond, not for the first time in the game, tested the referee's patience.
It was all very tense but the pressure eased ever so slightly when Corr, who had put in some huge hits over the afternoon, picked up at the base of a driving Derry scrum to charge over for an unconverted try.
Thomond needed a response but had nothing left in the tank and if either side was going to score in almost seven added minutes it was Derry. Indeed, Derry had the chance to kick for goal with the last kick knowing three points would deny Thomond their bonus, but McDonnell elected to kick to touch to bring proceedings to a half, a decision which speaks to the confidence levels in Derry at the moment.
This result and performance will help that. David Ferguson, Gerard Doherty and Chris Lamberton were superb in an excellent forward display while David Lapsley and James Perry impressed along the back line.
A third win of the season then but only one step in the right direction. There remains plenty for Paul O'Kane to work on during the week but that desire and passion shown against Thomond at least provides the Derry Head Coach with a solid base from which to build.
City of Derry: Jimmy Hamilton, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Gerard Doherty, Craig Huey, Chris Lamberton, Stephen Corr, Simon Logue, Alec McDonnell, Thomas Cole, Denis Posternak, David Lapsley, David Graham, James Perry. (Replacements) Cathal Cregan, Chris Shields, Ben Pollin, Collie Campbell, Philip Duffy.
Thomond: Eoin O'Neill, Colin Slater, Tom Sheehan, Micke McMahon, Aaron McCloskey, Keelan McMahon, Ryan Ahern, Jordan O'Donnell, Aaron Rice, Evan Cusack, Korey Browne, David O'Halloran, Eoghan Carr, Keelan Stephenson, Adam Malone. (Replacements) Bobby McInerney, Paddy Devanney, Fintan Cross, Colin Madden, Liam Brock.
Referee: Glen Sheridan