AIL RUGBY: Armagh cruise past City of Derry to set up final day drama

Neil Burns hit two first half penalties but it was Armagh who strolled to victory at Judges Road on Saturday.
Neil Burns hit two first half penalties but it was Armagh who strolled to victory at Judges Road on Saturday.

All Ireland League Division 2B

City of Derry 13, Armagh 48

Both City of Derry and Armagh’s All Ireland League fate will be decided in final day showdowns at opposite ends of the Division 2B table after a rampant Armagh ran in eight tries to secure a impressive bonus point victory at Judges Road on Saturday.

With leaders Greystones defeating Wanderers, it means the gap at the top remains a single point with Alex McCloy’s team now relying on Old Crescent to do them a favour at Dr. Hickey Park next week while they entertain struggling Bective Rangers at the Palace Grounds.

At the other end of the table, Derry’s destiny remains in their own hands with Richard McCarter’s men tasked with a ‘winner-takes-all’ meeting with Skerries in Holmpatrick, the victor safe in Division 2B and the loser facing a possible relegation play-off against the runner-up from Division 2C which is looking like Sligo.

Bective will also be looking anxiously over their shoulder. This weekend’s bonus point victory over basement boys, Thomond, lifted them above Derry on points difference but they have to at least match Derry’s points tally from that Skerries clash when they face Armagh or risk finishing second from bottom.

For all those permutations, Derry can keep things simple by defeating Skerries and staying up.

To do that,Derry must put this meeting with Armagh behind them on a forgettable afternoon for the home side against a team that was superior on the day. Put simply, some of Armagh’s running game was sensational but the Derry’s frustration will be the easy scores they gifted the visitors at critical junctures of the game.

None more so than inside the opening minute.

Game-plans laid out, team talks gives, job assigned and you conceded with 45 seconds on the clock. It is every coaches nightmare and a clearing kick from the otherwise impressive Neil Burns was ran back by flanker James Hanna who sent Josh McKinley over for a five point lead.

It was an early ‘gift’ but the home side responded impressively with two Burns penalties having them in front at 6-5 by the 11th minute.

it was the contradiction of the game. Derry probably bossed territory and possession but Armagh were too clinical, making full use of the perfect playing surface to spread play at every opportunity.

Indeed, Derry only had the lead for two minutes and, again, the concession of the try was of their own making. Another Burns kick failed to find touch but it should have been enough to take Derry out of danger. Instead Armagh winger Andy Willis was afforded far too much time and accelerated into the space before play was recycled for No. 8 Neil Faloon to crash over with Harvey Young converting.

Five minutes later it got even better for the visitors as Richard McCarter’s pass was intercepted in midfield and play ran down the other end where Willis was this time on hand to finish with the conversion making it 6-19.

The visitors lost Faloon to a yellow shortly after but ti made not difference to their attacking prowess as Derry were turned over in midfield, Young then dancing through an accommodating Derry defence to score a lovely sole try and wrap up the bonus point inside half an hour.

The score was harsh on the home side who had more than played their part in the opening half and they finally had their reward three minutes before the break when sustained pressure ended with play being switched left for McCarter to feed Burns who then released winger Jack Beattie to score in corner. Burns’ superb conversion left it 13-24 at the interval and Derry had a huge task on their hands.

It was a task made more difficult by Neil Faloon’s opening try of the second half on 58 minutes after Derry had seen Adam Bratton yellow carded.

If that Faloon score sealed the game, Armagh were not in the mood to ease up as a superb move down the left saw substitute Cormac Fox kick ahead for centre Stuart Lester to finish.

Further tries from Daryl Morton and a second for Willis merely confirmed Armagh’s superiority.

And so it is down to the final day for both Ulster sides. Armagh look likely to win but cannot control their destiny; Derry looking to complete an escape act that looked almost impossible at the half-way point of the season.

It’s all to play for.

City of Derry: Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Chris Cooper, Joe Dunleavy, Craig Huey, Stephen Corr, Jason Bloomfield, Richard McCarter, Tiernan Thornton, Richard Baird, David Graham, Ian Bratton, Neil Burns. (Replacements) Eoin Ferry, Gerard Doherty, Bob McKillop, Jack Beattie, Kyle Henderson.

Armagh: Simon Carlisle, Andy Smyth, Philip Fletcher, Josh McKinley, Oliver Millar, James Hanna, Ali Birch, Neil Faloon, Harry Doyle, Harvey Young, John Faloon, Stuart Lester, Chris Colvin, Andy Willis, Tim McNiece. (Replacements) David Swann, Daryl Morton, Peter Elliott, Ryan Purvis, Cormac Fox.

Referee: Stuart Douglas (IRFU)