City of Derry's defensive masterclass defeats Clonmel in All Ireland League
All Ireland League Division 2C
City of Derry 12, Clonmel 5
In a division of such fine margins as All Ireland League 2C, guts could win as many points as talent and on Saturday against Clonmel, City of Derry showed they have the stomach for battle.
Two tries, one conversion and a whole lorry load of spirit took Paul O'Kane's men up into fifth in the table amid the wind and driving rain of the Craig Thompson Stadium.
Callum O'Hagan and Rico Schneider were the try scorers but this victory was forged in a defensive display that held the Munster men scoreless for over 73 minutes in the face of concerted forward pressure. Clonmel had the weight and experience in the pack and dominated the set pieces but time and again washed up against a Derry defence that refused to buckle.
Indeed the final 10 minutes was a real war of attrition as Clonmel banged on the door of a penalty try five metres from the Derry line. It didn't come and justifiably so with a couple of calls harsh on a home scrum battling for it's life.
Shorn of so many regulars, Derry's performance was summed up by a late cameo from former Derry county GAA player Neil Forester, elevated from the club's second string for a surprise AIL debut. What he lacked in experience he more than made up for in endeavour with a couple of brilliant late tackles as every man in green put his body on the line to preserve a lead which had been hard won over the previous 75 minutes.
It was never an afternoon for free flowing rugby. If anything conditions looked ideal for the big, physical Clonmel pack and the visitors could hardly have got off to a better start.
A Derry line-outy along the home 22 yard line proved their undoing as a long throw over everyone handed Clonmel possession. The big visiting pack rumbled into action, making some hard yards and pulling in defenders before the switch right found centre Luke Hogan in space to dive over in the corner for an unconverted opener.
It looked ominous for Derry at that stage but their response was positive as a superb Simon Logue break took them deep into Clonmel territory and probably should have ended with a Callum O'Hagan try only for a delay allowing the visitors to get men back.
Derry rode their luck though when Clonmel really should have scored their second try on 24 minutes. Hogan was again the player who found himself in the clear but just as he looked set to dot down his second of the afternoon, a brilliant late tackle for Thomas Cole forced him to knock on and Derry earned a reprieve.
Alex McDonnell was the next home player to cut a dazzling line through the visitors defence to almost get Cole in but again, the Derry player was stopped inches short of the line. It was a similar story following a lovely O'Hagan break, Derry once again failing to turn pressure and field position into points as the side turned around with Clonmel still five points up.
Any underlying frustration at failure to convert chances gave way to a vastly improved second half from the home side with two moments of individual magic the turning points for Derry.
The first arrived only three minutes in and ironically came from a Clonmel penalty from which they were unable to extend their advantage. Derry restarted but Clonmel kicked back, deep into Derry territory. Suddenly, from nowhere, Thomas Cole spotted a gap and set off on a mesmeric run which took out the entire Clonmel defence as he weaved his way into the visitors '22'. The cover was closing but Cole was alert enough to spot O'Hagan up in support and threw a lovely looping pass out wide which left his team-mate the easier task and scoring.
A difficult conversion was missed but Derry had the momentum and barely five minutes later it was Logue's turn to sparkle as he picked his way through a packed Clonmel defence before off loading for Schneider to dive over close to the posts. McDonnell converted and at 12-5 Derry had turned the tide.
Clonmel though have proved already, with one win and two draws since their elevation from the junior ranks, that they are a match for any side in the division and back they came. Time and again, their pod driven pick and drive game battered against a Derry defence running on adrenaline.
The final minutes must have felt like an age for the home bench with the added drama of a potential penalty try only heightening tension but also the euphoria of the final whistle.
This was a test of squad and Derry passed with flying colours. The next test is to maintain momentum.
City of Derry: James Hamilton; Ross Harkin, Sam Duffy, Quermy Warmerdam, Stephen Kelly, Stephn Kelly, Stephen Corr, , Criag Huey, Richard Baird, Ricardo Schneider, Alex McDonnell, Thomas Cole, Dennis Posternak, David Lapsely, Callum O'Hagan, Simon Logue. (Replacements) Dara Gill, Barry Laverty, Gerard Doherty, Cain McColgan, Neil Forester.
Clonmel: Niall Campion, Martin Altamirano, Billy O'Kelly, James Corbett, Tony Cantwell, Ciaran Burke, John Gallagher, Neville Melbourne, Alex Sheehan, Luke Noonan, Darren Cass, Andrew Daly, Luke Hogan, Greg Carroll, Dylan Cadogan. (Replacements) Philip Ryan, David O'Gorman, Stephen Pyke, Conor Pearson, Kelan McDonald.
Referee: Robbie Watson