City of Derry defeat Omagh to score crucial All Ireland League victory

Energia All Ireland League, Division 2C
City of Derry's Stephen Corr in action against Omagh at Judge's Road today. (Photo: George Sweeney)City of Derry's Stephen Corr in action against Omagh at Judge's Road today. (Photo: George Sweeney)
City of Derry's Stephen Corr in action against Omagh at Judge's Road today. (Photo: George Sweeney)

City of Derry 20, Omagh Academicals 0

If, as the rugby manta goes, defence is an attitude, City of Derry's future is in good hands after Richard McCarter's young side scored a huge AIL Division 2C victory over Ulster rivals Omagh at Judges Road on Saturday.

First half tries from the returning Simon Logue and Davy Graham only told half the story of a brilliant display built on mentality. Fresh from last week's chastening 43-0 defeat at leaders, Skerries, a result that meant Derry had conceded 74 points in two games, questions were being asked of a team who don't always seem to appreciate their own potential. Throw in second from bottom Clonmel having closed the gap to a single point courtesy of four points from two Covid cancelled games during the same period and suddenly Derry were not far off 'squeaky bum time'.

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Their response? A season's best display summed up perfectly by the '0' pinned to their Ulster rivals' who had been eight points clear prior to kick off.

And it was a result that richly deserved. Welcoming back Logue, Graham and Stephen Corr was a timely pre-match boost with 'Logie' and 'DG' proving their worth with tries in the final seven minutes of the first half. Those scores changed the complexion of an opening half in which Derry had dominated without being able to transfer possession and territory into points.

But even turning around 17-0 up, Derry had it all to do in the second period. Playing against the wind, McCarter had to watch as both Logue and Graham were forced off by injury, something which not so long ago may have been to much for this young side to cope with as Omagh pressed for a way back into the game.

Yet, robbed of two of their most experienced operators, a new crop of 'leaders' stepped forward and none more so that the brilliant Alex McDonnell. The out-half accounted for 10 of his team's points thanks to two penalties and two sublime conversions while his tackle count was through the roof.

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McDonnell has been Derry's stand out player this season but he wasn't ploughing a lone furrow here. Neil Burns, architect of Logue's opening try, was first class while Gerard Doherty and Corr made some huge hits, especially during the opening 20 minutes of the second half when Omagh had Derry pinned back inside their own '22'. Callum O'Hagan, Chris Shields and Paddy Blenerhassett too got through a trojan amount of work while the home pack were well on top in the loose and the set-piece.

Omagh suffered a blow within seven minutes of the kick-off when flanker Adam Longwell was forced off by a nasty cut to his head and it wasn't long until intense pressure on a 'Garryowen' by Davy Graham forced Omagh to concede a 13th minute penalty. Up stepped McDonnell to make light of the difficult conditions and register his opening three points of the afternoon.

And that's how we stayed, despite constant Derry pressure, until five minutes before half-time when Derry managed to steal an Omagh line-out just inside the opposition '22'. With the ball being switched right, Burns made a superb burst to break the Omagh line. He looked to be in until ankle tapped just as he threatened to go clear but was still able to recycle possession right again where Graham's final pass released Logue to mark his return with a trademark try right in the corner.

That made the conversion difficult in the extreme but someone forgot to tell McDonnell who slotted it over from the touchline despite the swirling wind and driving rain.

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That was the the good. The bad came when it quickly became apparent Logue would not be able to continue having been injured in scoring the try. Only back from long term injury, McCarter will be anxiously waiting on the prognosis for a player who can turn any game with a moment of magic.

Ten points didn't seem a huge cushion with the second half to come but Derry weren't finished. As we ticked into first half injury time, Derry kicked a midfield penalty to the corner and secured good ball from the line-out. Corr and Doherty both made huge breaks before, with Omagh having over committed in the centre, Derry switched play left where ace finisher Graham bull-dozed his way past two defenders to go over in the corner. Once more the kick looked a long shot but again, McDonnell made it look easy and Derry had a deserved 17-0 lead.

The expected Omagh onslaught arrived after half-time but every Derry player stood their ground with some brilliant last ditch tackles to frustrate the Tyrone men. Ethan McKeown did look to be in on one occasion before spilling the ball under pressure when he only needed to ground it to score. Otherwise it was a tale of Omagh pressure washing up against a disciplined Derry defensive wall which simply refused to allow their line to be breached. It was superb.

And with Omagh's will broken, Derry eventually broke upfield and could have added to their try tally but McDonnell's late penalty was to be the only score of the half as Derry claimed their first AIL win in three games, their third of the season.

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It doesn't move them up the table, but this victory was worth more than just four points to McCarter's team. After a difficult couple of weeks, they've bounced back in style and proved they belong higher up the table. With no more AIL fixtures until January 14th, their New Year resolution has to be to realise that.

City of Derry: Chris Shields, Eoin McDonald, Sam Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Cein McColgan, David Brown, Aaron Deery, Stephen Corr, Jamie Millar, Alex McDonnell, Calum O'Hagan, Neil Burns, David Graham, Simon Logue. (Replacements) Adam Marley, Jimmy Hamilton, Tiernan Thornton, David Lapsley, Ross McLaughlin.

Omagh RFC: David Braden, Philip Ewing, Ethan McKeown, Robbie Sproule, Jamie Sproule, Ryan Armstrong, Matthew Clyde, Adam Longwell, Taine Lagan, Kyle Beattie, Ryan Mitchell, Luke Hansen, Scott Barr, Neil Brown, Scott. (Replacements)

Referee: Richard Kerry