City of Derry back in AIL action with crucial Ulster derby at Omagh

AIL Division 2C: Omagh v CIity of Derry (Thomas Mellon Playing Fields, Saturday, 2.30pm)

By Michael Wilson
Friday, 14th January 2022, 8:09 am
Alex McDonnell will be a key man for City of Derry this weekend at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields. (Photo: George Sweeney)
Alex McDonnell will be a key man for City of Derry this weekend at the Thomas Mellon Playing Fields. (Photo: George Sweeney)

City of Derry Head Coach Richard McCarter has challenged his side to turn a positive end to the first half of the AIL season into a consistent run of results as they begin 2022 with an Ulster derby trip to north west rivals, Omagh.

Prior to Christmas, Derry produced one of their best displays of recent years to hold the Tyrone men scoreless in an impressive 20-0 Judges Road victory that closed the gap between the sides in the Division 2C table to four points. It was only Derry’s third win of an inconsistent campaign and while McCarter acknowledges Omagh will be out for revenge this weekend, he says his side can take confidence from the last meeting.

“A win for either team would be huge,” explained McCarter, “The scenario is pretty much identical to the game before Christmas where it was massive in terms of ending the first half of the season on a high and giving us positivity to take into the new year.

“This is the same. This a chance to kick-start our season, get the year off to a good start and could be a catalyst almost for building momentum to try and push up the table. One hundred per cent, Omagh will be looking to address the result from the last day. I felt they maybe underestimated us a bit before Christmas, whether consciously or subconsciously, but that certainly wont happen this time round.

“They’ll be massively up for it and looking to overturn that defeat so it’s going to be a much tougher game, especially on their home patch where they always have a good support. We have to raise our game even though we played pretty well in that game before Christmas.”

Both Simon Logue and David Lapsley remained sidelined through injury but otherwise McCarter has a full squad to select from and says the standards Derry set against Omagh last time out have to become the minimum for a panel packed with potential.

“I can’t remember the last time a Derry First XV kept an AIL team scoreless, especially a team like Omagh who are very dangerous and have scored a lot of points over the past couple of seasons,” he adds.

“That was the most pleasing aspects for me because I would say our defence can be a bit flaky at times if our mentality is not right. The league table tells you that by the fact we have the worst defensive record.

“The fact that we were able to hold Omagh to nil in the last game shows what we are capable of when we get our heads right and mentally we are up for it. That’s the bare minimum standard now. If we want to progress as a team and try to push up through the league we have to be mentally switched on as well as physically up for games.”

The young age profile of McCarter’s squad makes inconsistency a real danger every week but McCarter has no doubts over their ability if the attitude is correct.

“Retaining focus and concentration is the problem and it’s not just from week to week we are inconsistent, it’s during the 80 odd minutes. Out of the nine games, we’ve obviously won three but in the six we’ve lost we have played some good rugby in all of those games. We have defended well at times in all of those games but we’ve lost them at the same time so we have to get our heads right because I think we have been a bit under power in the first half of the season. I think the ceiling is quite high for this group of players.

“Hopefully we can have a bit of luck on the injury front, get a few back and keep the others fit and available and mount a challenge to push on up the table.”

The Derry Head Coach revealed his side’s build up to Saturday’s Ulster derby has been far from ideal with covid issues and isolation protocols severely disrupting post Christmas training plans.

“Apart from Logie (Simon Logue) and David Lapsley, who has a slight hamstring issue, we are more or less full strength.

“With Covid over the last couple of weeks our preparations have been disrupted a fair bit. We had lads who have missed all last week’s training and were only back out on Tuesday. It hasn’t been ideal but it is what it is.

“At one point we had seven or eight having to isolate so it has disrupted our preparations but we have most boys back out this week. Hopefully we have a few more again at training tonight (Thursday) and we can get some work done ahead of what is a big match for us.”