City of Derry secure huge AIL victory over Bruff thanks to dramatic late Gill try
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City of Derry 31, Bruff 24
Tense match build-up (check). Talented but inconsistent team (check). Season on the line (check). Dramatic injury time victory (check). Unlikely late hero - (check). Huge season defining win (double check)!
The scene was Judges Road but the script could have been Hollywood as City of Derry overturned a 17-10 half-time deficit against Bruff to keep alive their hopes of avoiding an end of season relegation play-off and the prospect losing their senior status.
Head Coach Richard McCarter hadn't minced his words prior to kick-off, Derry HAD to win or they were as good as in the bottom two. The response?
A gutsy, full blooded fourth victory of the season for Derry in which every player put his body on the line and substitutes CJ Cregan and Darragh Gill stole the show with two late tries to bring a crucial bonus point victory that moves Derry up two spots to eighth in the AIL Division 2C table.
Yet while Gill's 79th minute try proved the match-winner, Derry's heart and mentality was nowhere better illustrated than in hooker Cathal Cregan. The experienced Derry forward only stepped off a plane at 7am on Saturday morning. He was returning from his honeymoon but insisted he was available and went on to produce a vintage display.
Cregan's was the type of attitude Derry will need as they face into their last four fixtures. With Clonmel and Sunday's Well both losing at the weekend, only four points now separate the bottom four teams, two of which are destined for that relegation play-off.
It's Bangor up next for Derry but if they replicate this type of performance, then safety will move from long shot to likely though to do that they'll need to find the one ingredient which has escaped them to date this season - consistency.
This result was all the more important as Bruff arrived knowing victory could take them clear of the bottom three. The pressure was all on the home side but boy oh boy did McCarter's men respond.
The home cause wasn't helped but a few curious calls in the scrum but Derry got what they deserved, something that hasn't always happened this season. In three of their last four games, Derry had conceded a try within two minutes of kick-off but this time it was the 'Green and Black' starting and finishing stronger than their Limerick opponents.
Both teams had already had a go at each other's line by time Derry hit the front on 11 minutes after winning a scrum against the head inside the Bruff '22'. The impressive set-piece saw Bruff caught out and after moving it first right, where Davy Graham made good ground, play was quickly switched back right and Callum O'Hagan was able to dance inside the Bruff cover and score. Alex McDonnell, who was superb throughout, converted for a 7-0 lead.
Good start then but before Derry could get settled Bruff were level as Derry were, not for the first time, harshly penalised in the scrum. The visitors kicked for the corner, secured line-out possession and, from a tap and go penalty, were able to move it left and get centre Andy O'Byrne in with scrum-half Paul Collins converting to level the game.
Just like that Derry were back in front when McDonnell slotted over a difficult penalty but again, with 22 minutes on the clock and straight from the restart, Bruff grabbed their second try as two missed tackles allowed winger Mark Fitzpatrick in. With Collins again converting Bruff had a four point lead to take into half-time.
A yellow card a-piece for Bruff's O'Byrne and Derry's Davy Graham brought only a Bruff penalty from which Collins extended the Limerick men's lead to 17-10 after a breathless half.
The action kept coming though as McDonnell levelled within six minutes of the restart thanks to some great work from the home pack who forced Davy Brown over after going through the phases down the Derry left flank. The kick wasn't easy but McDonnell made it look like it was for 17-17.
A second yellow card for Derry arrived on 62 minutes as Cathal Cregan was this time handed a 10 minute break but it didn't stop the Judges Road men from hitting the front.
Five minutes after the yellow, McDonnell produced a lovely midfield break, skipping past two Bruff backs to open up the pitch for CJ Cregan who raced in under the posts. With McDonnell again converting, the only sour note was Cregan picked up a shoulder injury scoring and was forced off.
Yet before Cathal Cregan could even get back on the pitch, Bruff had pegged Derry back again as Jack O'Grady forced his way over under the posts on 74minutes.
The scene was set with a season, possibly even senior status was on the line but Derry reacted so positively, forcing Bruff back and eventually, after impressively working through the phases, engineering a man over thanks to captain Neil Burns' intelligence. That man was Darragh Gill and he didn't disappoint. Better still was to follow with McDonnell nailing a sideline kick he had no right to in the blustery conditions.
The game had been won but the battle now moves on to Bangor.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Cain McColgan, Craig Huey, David Brown, Tiernan Thornton, Jamie Millar, Alex McDonnell, Calum O'Hagan, Neil Burns (c), Davud Graham, Jordan Mealiff, Ross McLaughlin. (Replacements) Adam Marley, Jimmy Hamilton, Darragh Gill, CJ Cregan, David Lapsley.
Bruff: Dylan Purvis, Johnny Cleary, Kieran O'Dwyer, Neilus Keogh, Rob Browne, Conor Fitz, Tom O'Dwyer, Pa Maher, Paul Collins, Davy O'Grady, Kieran Bennett, Jack O'Grady, Any O'Byrne, Mark Fitzpatrick, Graham Whelan. (Replacements) TJ Coffey, Tom Quigley, Fergal Cooke, Adam O'Dwyer, Ross O'Brien-May.
Referee: Michael Forrestal