City of Derry begin AIL campaign with bonus point win
All Ireland League Division 2C
City of Derry 29, Tullamore RFC 15
It was only a first step but the green shoots of regrowth were undeniable at the Craig Thompson Stadium at Judges Road on Saturday as City of Derry's All Ireland League Division 2C campaign got underway with a impressive bonus point victory over Tullamore.
Simon Logue (2), David Graham and Conall Gill were the Derry try scorers in a performance that owed as much to the defensive discipline installed by Paul O'Kane as it did to the wizardy of Logue who twice pick-pocketed Tullamore pockets for his side's opening two tries.
Those scores were added to by a breathtaking Graham try with the bonus point secured by a deserved try for Gill who had been forced into action to replace the unfortunate Alex McDonell after he was forced off injured after a bright start.
But probably the most striking image of the afternoon was the City of Derry Seconds, fresh from a victory of their own, waiting to cheer the Firsts off at the final whistle. A club that has been somewhat disjointed in the past at times, now looks united and that is down to the work done by O'Kane since taking over at the end of last season.
The optimism is unmistakable but hope needs something tangible to cling to and this was a performance to rekindle that feel good factor at Derry.
The home side did not have it their own way for long periods, especially in a first half dominated by Tullamore.
Crucially though, they dug in when they had to, made the tackles they needed to and exploited that chances when they had them and hopefully this display sets the tone for the season.
All over the pitch there were big displays. Tullamore had a considerable weight advantage in the pack and made it count in the first half, banging their heads off a Derry defensive line deep inside the home '22 for relatively little reward.
That was down to some huge hits put in by a Derry pack that had Tiernan Thornton playing flanker and looking like he'd done so for years. In the backs, Logue was brilliant but so too was full back Thomas Cole while Paddy Blenerhasset was superb saving a certain try with the type of last ditch tackle that summed up the Derry attitude.
And this was about a squad rather than a team. With worrying injuries picked up, the likes of Richard Baird and Gill in particular came in to play a massive part in the win.
The finale was spectacular but the start was worrying. Samuel Burns sent an early Tullamore penalty wide but the opening half hour was all about the visitors whose forward orientated game was in stark contrast to the fast offloading game Derry were looking to play.
Time and again, they had Derry back on their own line, coming within an infringement of a penalty try at one point in the first half. It was pressure that had to tell an d it did, just not at the end of the pitch that most expected it to.
Just past the half hour mark, Adam Bratton won clean lone-out ball close to half way which set Davyd graham away on a trademark barnstorming break. he was held up but after the ball had been recycled a number of times, Logue spotted a gap at the foot of a scrum and darted inside the Tullamore defence to score.
With McDonnell converting it was a huge morale boost for the home side.
The lead last until first half injury time when more Tullamore pressure finally yielded a score as Gerard Molloy forced his way over for a try which Karl Dunne converted to ensure the sides were level at the break and Derry were probably the more relieved of the sides given the pressure they had been under.
The second half saw Derry started with greater purpose. Nine minutes in, a good Derry line-out saw some great driving work by Stephen Corr which looked to have got James Hamilton over only for the referee to signal he was held up but the home team didn't have to wait long for their second.
Derry maintained their pressure from the five metre scrum and when play was moved left, Logue scored a carbon copy of his opening effort, again spotting a gap non one else had for his second try, again converted by Gill fora 14-7 lead.
A yellow card for Davy Ferguson threatened to up the Derry momentum with Barry Bracken slotting over a Tullamore penalty to reduce the deficit only to see Gill reply with a similar effort at the other end minutes later.
Seven between them but Tullamore were pressing. A grubber kick through was tidied up inside his own '22 by Blenerhasset who fed Thomas Cole. It was about clearing the danger at that point but Cole didn't read the script, accelerating around Tullamore at break neck speed in a run that took him to half way. The only man that could stay with him was Davy Graham who took the off-load and stepped on the after burners to go between three covering defenders and score under the posts. It was superb and knocked the stuffing out of Tullamore, especially when Gill slotted over the conversion for 24-10.
Eamonn Bracken grabbed a Tullamore try but Derry would not be denied and with the last play of the match, Gill capped a fine individual display off the bench by diving over in the corner to secure Derry started with five points.
O'Kane won't be getting carried away with one win but after last season's troubles, this was an encouraging start and a basis from which the club can build.
City of Derry: Jamie Hamilton, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Adam Bratton, Tiernan Thornton, Stephen Corr, Craig Huey, Simon Logue, Alex McDonnell, James Perry, Denis Posternak, David Graham, Paddy Blenerhasset, Thomas Cole.
(Replacements) Steven Duffy, Ross Harkin, Richard Baird, Phil Duffy, Conall Gill.
Tullamore: Mattew Murphy, Cathal Feighery, Conor Higgins, Eamonn Bracken, Sean Rigney, Kevin Browne, Gavin Ridgeway, Lemeki Vaipulu, Andrew Hyde, Samuel Burns, Brian Gilligan, Tom Gilligan, Dylan Kelso, Jose Mendez, Sean McCabe.
(Replacements) Gerard Molloy, Michael Tormey, Steven Pyke, Karl Dunne, Derek Farrell, Barry Bracken.
Referee: Jason Cairns (IRFU)