City of Derry 23, MU Barnhall 11
Typical, you wait for nine games for an All Ireland League victory and then two come along in succession!
To beat a team like Barnhall, who put 40 points on us little more than a month ago, it just show the character in the side and how things have been building...Richard McCarter
City of Derry’s escapology act is gaining momentum. What started with a New Year’s Eve win against Dungannon, bolstered by cameos from Andrew Semple and David Funston, was put to the acid test against third placed Barnhall at Judges Road on Saturday and Derry passed with flying colours.
Tries in either half from Cathal Cregan and Ian Bratton put the seal and a victory built on a defensive masterclass epitomised by captain Stephen Corr whose personal tackle count must have hit three figures.
“We are delighted,” said Derry player-coach Richard McCarter after the game, “To beat a team like Barnhall who put 40 points on us little more than a month ago, it just show the character in the side and how things have been building and progressing over the past few weeks.
“Defensively we were superb and we took our chances in attack. Neil Burns kicked brilliantly at goal and, at the end of the day, that has won us the game.
“Playing at home, these are the types of games you target in this division. Barnhall are a very good side but I think we were well worth the win and played some great rugby.”
The victory moves Derry four points clear of bottom side Thomond and while the north west men remain seven adrift of Skerries immediately above them, closing that gap now looks more than possible on the basis of Derry’s last two performances.
Gone is the defensive insecurity that plagued the early games of the season to be replaced with a defensive solidity that withstood some long spells of Barnhall pressure. Much of the credit must for that transformation must go to Terry McMaster’s whose return which has signalled a more structured Derry.
Derry have retained that annoying habit of immediately conceding too often after scoring but this is now a different team which has its sights set on safety.
And ‘captain’ Corr was instrumental to everything his team did well. Time and Time again, as Barnhall tried to get their dangerous running game going, the big back row changed the momentum of the game with huge tackles. He drove his side forward aided by Joe Dunleavy and a pack whose set pieces were first class.
On a perfect day for rugby, Barnhall were only denied an early try by a needless knock-on but did hit the lead on 10 minutes through a Simon Gillespie penalty.
Derry were probably kicking too much possession to the visitors at this point but eventually settled to score a superb 14th minute try. After going through the cycles, Corr and Dunleavy combined to opened up the Barnhall with driving runs and superb off-loading that sucked in the defensive cover and left Cregan with the simple task of diving over to finish the move. With Burns converting Derry were up and running.
Barnhall were guilty of not making use of numerous overlaps they engineered in the opening half but did eventually score from one on 27 minutes when Luke Mellett went over in the corner for a 7-8 lead but Burns, who kicked well throughout, soon had Derry back in front through a penalty.
Inside 60 seconds though, that lead had been ceded when Gillespie hit a superb drop goal for that sent the visitors into the break leading 11-10.
Derry were probably happy enough at half-time and improved significantly in terms of possession despite Gillespie missing an easy Barnhall penalty in the opening seconds of the second period. They were made to pay for that miss when Burns split the posts for a third time for another penalty.
The Derry out-half did miss one kick all afternoon but his accuracy kept his side in the game during periods of Barnhall dominance and he should a welcome ability to keep the visitors guessing by mixing up his kicking in play.
The score that eventually settled the game saw Derry capitalise on the one real opening they engineered during the second 40 minutes, the ball being worked both direction before being switched back right where Ian Bratton had space to finish. With Burns converting Derry held a 20-11 lead.
There was still call for more defensive work as Derry threw themselves into their tackles and when David graham was tackled above the shoulders in the 75th minute, it gave Burns the opportunity to put the game beyond Barnhall.
The Derry celebrations told their own story. It may be only win number two but this was worth more than four points to the home side and their supporters. The atmosphere has changed. Derry are on the up rise once more.
City of Derry: Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Chris Cooper, Adam Bratton, Joe Dunleavy, Craig Huey, Stephen Corr, Jason Bloomfield, Neil Burns, Tiernan Thornton, Richard Baird, David Graham, Jack Beattie. (Replacements) Peadar Meenan, Eoin Ferry, Bob McKillop, Stuart Simpson, Matthew Kilgore.
MU Barnhall: Dan Jennings, Gareth Murray, Raymond Dufficy, Sam Hall, Tom McKeowen, Rob Tiernan, Brendan Tiernan, Andrew Purcell; Conor Lacey, Simon Gillespie, David Stewart, Barry Hill, Farrell McManus, Luke Mellett, Darren Hudson. (Replacements) David O’Reilly, Peter COurtney, Adam Wheatley, Robert Mullen, Ben McCarthy.
Referee: Jason Cairns (IRFU)