City of Derry's 'cup final' finale continues as Sunday's Well visit Judges Road
In a season finale of ‘cup finals’, this weekend has the potential to define City of Derry’s All Ireland League fate with the visit of Sunday’s Well to Judges Road.
Richard McCarter is sick saying it; the players are probably sick hearing it and the fans are likely queasy reading about it but even in a division as tight as AIL Division 2C, there are pivotal days and Saturday will be one.
Around the same time as eighth placed Sunday’s Well are trotting out against ninth placed Derry, 10th placed Clonmel will welcome seventh sitting Bruff to Ardgaoithe. Only seven points separate those bottom four teams. Two of them will end up in the relegation play-off with their senior status on the line and with only three fixtures remaining, this weekend will have a huge impact on the identity of those play-off candidates.
It’s deja vu for McCarter whose first year as Derry Head Coach has been littered with crucial clashes but the former out-half is not about to shy away from the challenge.
“It feels like I have been saying the same thing for several weeks about each game being a cup final but this one has even more of a ‘make or break’ feel to it with only two games to come after it,” explained McCarter, “It’s a game we just have to win, there’s is no other way of putting it. We’ll have our eye on other fixtures of course but we can only look after the game we can control so it’s a big one.
“If we were to win - and we have to win - it doesn’t really ease the pressure in one sense because Sunday’s Well have to play Clonmel on the last day of the season. They also have a game against Midleton who are just about out of the scrap. There are a few other teams as well who have tough games so while a win is crucial for us, it doesn’t get us off the hook.
“I still think we need eight or nine points from these last three matches to sneak away from it but we should have a clear indication after Saturday of what we will need.”
There was mixed news on the injury front for McCarter ahead of the visit of the Cork side. Derry will be without influential duo Stephen Corr and Neil Burns although the loss of Burns is offset somewhat by the welcome return of Simon Logue who has missed the majority of the season.
“Both Neil and Stephen are out. Corrsy is progressing but not progressing quickly enough to be involved,” admitted the Derry Head Coach, “That’s two big players to be without.
“Corrsy we have had to contend with for a month or two now so we are over that to a degree but Neil was starting to hit top form again and was becoming really crucial to how we wanted to play so he’s a big of a blow but we have good players to come in. Logie (Simon Logue) will give us a major boost in the back line.”
Derry won the corresponding fixture 14-20 at Musgrave Park on October but this is likely to be a very different Sunday’s Well side they encounter on Saturday. During the fist half of fixtures prior to Christmas, the Munster side never won a game as an opening day draw against Clonmel was followed by eight straight defeats. However, after strengthening their panel over the festive period, their form has been transformed with four wins from six but it is notable that both defeats came in away games with all four victories secured in Cork.
“Sunday’s Well appear stronger, no doubt,” added McCarter, “I honestly don’t know too much about them other than the previous game but the talk is they have recruited well. They’ve obviously done something because they’ve gone from not winning any before Christmas to winning four from six which is top four form.
“We know the magnitude of the task in front of us. It’s a completely different side that we are coming up against but I still think we are good enough to compete with anyone in this division but we have to take our chances in attack and, defensively, we have to be much better than we have been.”
Derry’s last outing was a 41-25 Ulster derby defeat at Bangor, a game in which the Judges Road men more than played their part only for mistakes to cost them dearly. Now, with a trip to leaders Enniscorthy and a final day home clash with Tullamore to follow this weekend, McCarter knows his players must rediscover the form that saw them account for Bruff at the end of February.
“These breaks in the games tend to go against us as we don’t always have great numbers but at the same time, it allows boys to recharge and refresh and we had a very good training session last night (Tuesday) where we concentrated a lot on defence. We know our defence has to be a lot tighter than it has been.
“This week has been very good. The lads are very positive and upbeat and the nice weather helps with that. Hopefully the more solid ground will play into our hands as well now that our attack is starting to fire a bit better.
“We have to be difficult to beat at home, especially with two of our final three games at Judges Road. Our last outing at home was a positive performance and result against Bruff so we can take confidence from that. Even our away performance against Bangor, we actually played very well but it was that old chestnut of conceding soft scores which cost us. The boys will be up for Saturday. They know the importance and significance of it, so hopefully we can come out and do a job.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher between the quartet of clubs at the foot of the table but McCarter is in little doubt his squad is good enough to climb away from danger but there is no longer any room for error.
“It’s a boost to have two of the last three matches at home, you’d prefer that than the other way around. Enniscorthy - I don’t like the term free hit’ - but they are top by 10 points clear against second from bottom so no one will be expecting much from us in that game but that gives us a freedom to play as well. Hopefully after Saturday we will have a better picture of what we need to do.
“To be honest, at this stage it’s a bit numbing if I’m honest. I’m fully aware of how important every game and every point is but I’ve been saying it until I’m blue in the face.
“I don’t get as nervous any more before the matches because I know they’re all huge and I know what I’m in for in terms of the emotions of the 80 minutes. I still think we are a good side and I still think we shouldn’t be anywhere near this but we are and it’s up to us to get ourselves out of it.”