City of Derry will be forced into a reshuffle of their back line for this weekend’s SONI Ulster Senior Cup opener against Belfast Harlequins at Deramore Park (k.o. 2.30pm).
The Judges Road men will be without Callum O’Hagan, Stuart Simpson and Ben Barbour from the side that started last weekend’s league defeat against Ballymena which means a return to action for player-coach Richard McCarter who is likely to line out at full-back.
Injuries will be key with the size of the squad we are working with but I think everyone has a bit more self belief after last week.Richard McCarter
O’Hagan had to be carried off on his senior debut last week with a knee injury that is likely to sideline him for several weeks, a blow for a young player who had looked very promising. Simpson is also out for a number of weeks and McCarter, who is part of the new Judges Road management team, admitted injuries could play a key role this season with a relatively small panel to select from.
“I had hoped we might get an injury free run with the small squad we have but only one week in we have lost a few players though that’s part and parcel of rugby,” explained McCarter.
“It has been a bit of a crash course in management so far. Every day there are issues that come up but we are still in the preparation stages for the All Ireland League.
“We were very pleased with the first half performance last week, especially considering all the upheaval at the club over the close season. There was a stage when we were struggling to get a team out but I thought in the first half especially we gave as good as we got against Ballymena.
“The three scores we conceded were soft and very avoidable but we can work on that. In the second half, injuries meant we had to reshuffle the team, bring players out of the forwards etc and it upset our tempo. Ballymena being Ballymena - with a bigger squad and being able to roll substitutes on and off - took advantage and made their chances count. It’s also worth remembering Ballymena are three divisions above us as well so you would expect them to put us under pressure but we were very upbeat after the game.
“We were encouraged by some of the displays but we have to make a step up this week. We can’t be settling for mediocrity. We have to now kick on against ‘Quins’ and show we have learned lessons from last week and are improving.”
The loss of Simpson will see Davy Graham shift the centre with the pack largely unchanged and senior players like Stephen Corr and Simon Logue still to return.
Like Derry, Harlequins started their season in defeat, losing out to Belfast rivals Malone but McCarter is not putting too much weight on results at this stage of the season.
“We won’t be reading too much into any result at this stage because we don’t know what sort of team either side had out and who was available to them last week.
“For us, it is about concentrating on performance. The result doesn’t really matter at this stage of the season but as it’s a cup game, obviously you always want to win and progress as far as possible. The most important thing, however, is building on last week’s performance and preparing for Skerries.
“I’m much more encouraged than I was before the Ballymena game. I wouldn’t say things were ‘doom and gloom’ last week but there was a degree of negativity and worry about how things were going to go. The first half last week showed that we have good players; we are a good side and can compete with any team if we put the work in. Injuries will be key with the size of the squad we are working with but I think everyone has a bit more self belief after last week. It wasn’t the result we wanted but the players showed enough to know that if we can work hard as a group and not make mistakes we can compete.”