AIL RUGBY: Gutsy City of Derry show potential despite Skerries defeat

City of Derry centre Paddy Blenerhassett breaks the Skerries defence to score his side's second try at the Craig Thompson Stadium at Judges Road on Saturday.
City of Derry centre Paddy Blenerhassett breaks the Skerries defence to score his side's second try at the Craig Thompson Stadium at Judges Road on Saturday.

Ulster Bank All Ireland League Division 2B

City of Derry 25, Skerries 38

A second All Ireland defeat in three games it may have been but there was more than enough in a gutsy City of Derry performance to suggest close season predictions of doom and gloom may prove wide of the mark.

To put this result into some context. AIL week one saw a Derry team short of pre-season preparations crushed by Wanderers 71-3 in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Seven days later, as Derry were registering their first win against Belfast Harlequins, that same Wanderers were struggling to a narrow 27-34 victory over Skerries.

Fast forward one more week and Skerries arrive at the Craig Thompson Stadium at Judges Road expected to dish out a similarly chastening defeat to Trevor Will's young side, especially when No. 8 Conn Marrey crossed the home line after only two minutes.

Except, only 14 days on from that opening day rout, Derry no longer look the same team.

Yes, they are inexperienced (and it was that inexperience that probably cost them at least a bonus point) but it is difficult to expect a panel that includes four 18 year-olds to be anything else.

Yes, they lack the physical bulk of other sides (a worry when the winter weather brings heavier pitches) but they seem determined to bridge that gap with heart and there was plenty of that on display in a 25-38 defeat which they could have gone on to win having brought Skerries back to 25-28 with 15 minutes remaining.

That was the frustration but when the disappointment of the result subsides, the Derry players highlighted that potential they have and proved they can compete with the better sides in this division. They challenge now will be to marry the type of guts they showed against Skerries with better decision making and ensure a potent back line is in position to make chances count.

A big reason for optimism is New Zealand scrum-half Tyler Rogers-Holden. after a try scoring home debut last week against Harlequins, the Kiwi was the best player on the pitch against Skerries and is already forming a productive looking partnership with Neil Burns who was his usual consistent self.

Paddy Blenerhassett is another to have hit the ground running in a back line full of promise.

Derry's front row, missing Cathal Cregan, also competed well although the pack would benefit from the return of players such as Stephen Corr both in terms of size and experience.

Following that early Skerries try, a score built on by a Billy Mulcahy penalty which had the visitors 8-0 up, Derry set about putting in a performance they should take heart from even if the result was frustrating.

First, a brilliant Burns penalty cut the deficit almost immediately before Rogers-Holdens' initial break was the catalyst for a superb Derry team try that sent Killian Thornton over in the corner and great work by Burns and David Ferguson among others.

That was on 12 minutes but Derry inexperience let Skerries back in within three minutes as Tom Mulvany forced his way over after too many missed tackles on the home team's part.

The young Derry side refused to allow the setback to disrupt them.

Skerries' second row Mulvany was then yellow carded for cynically pulling Rogers-Holden down after the Kiwi's quick 'tap and go' penalty looked to have sent him clear. It was only a temporary respite though as another Burns penalty left it 11-15 at the break.

Skerries won a penalty straight from the restart and restored their seven points advantage. Seven became 12 on 51 minutes when hooker Chris Tone crashed over and most within Judges Road expected that to be that.

Derry weren't finished though and when Skerries replacement Mark Nally was yellow carded for an almost identical foul on Rogers-Holden that brought the game's first yellow card, Derry took advantage.

The home team moved play left where Rogers-Holden sold an outrageous 'dummy' pass that sent half the club house the wrong way before off-loading to Blenerhassett who danced through two tackles and dived over. When Burns converted it was game on at 18-23.

However, inexperience reared its head again as Derry needlessly allowed Tonge in for his second try of the game and a 18-28 lead with three minutes.

Two minutes later and it was Burns opening up the Skerries defence with a lovely kick through which forced a Derry penalty five metres from the line. While other debated and prepare, Rogers-Holden again showed quick thinking by playing in Ferguson for an opportunist try which, with Burns' conversion left Derry three behind and in the ascendancy.

Yet, that was as good as it got.

Two late Skerries tries were harsh on Derry but provided a lesson that this young team can hopefully learn from. If they do, they have the ability to climb the Division 2B table.

City of Derry: Ross Harkin, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Jack Townley, Calum McDonald, Danny Burns, Craig Huey, Tyler Rogers-Holden, Neil Burns, Tiernan Thornton, David Graham, Paddy Blenerhassett, Killian Thornton, Thomas Cole.

(Replacements) Jordan Burns, Barry Lafferty, Richard Gillen, Conor Cummings, Jack Beattie.

Skerries: Cormac Marrey, Chris Tonge, Neil Martin, Joe Glennon, Tom Mulvany, George Harrington, Barry Murphy, Conn Marrey, Eoghan Carron, Billy Mulcahy, Paul Devitt, Mikey Sherlock, Dara Lowndes, Lorcan Jones, Ross Gordon.

(Replacements)

Referee: Tommy O'Donohue (IRFU)