City of Derry 10, Sunday’s Well 21
City of Derry’s miserable end to a league campaign that promised so much was compounded as Sunday’s Well ended any lingering hopes of promotion with victory in Saturday’s AIL promotion play-off semi-final at Judges Road.
And Terry McMaster’s men can have few complaints as injuries and unavailability caught up with the team that had led AIL Division 2B from the first week of the season until being overtaken by Highfield in injury time on the final day.
That scenario result meant the play-offs for Derry but despite much improved second half on Saturday, the north west men never recovered from an opening half in which they struggled against a physically superior Cork side.
The loss of forward power like captain David Ferguson, Stephen Corr and Davy Houston among others proved critical against the Cork side superbly mixed up a traditional Munster forward game with an impressive display of running rugby.
And when Derry - who trailed 18-3 at half-time - threatened a second half comeback following Neil Burns’ excellent 46th minute try, Sunday’s Well managed the game with an impressive cynicism or experience depending on which camp you were sitting in.
With quite a considerable breeze, Derry took the elements from the kick-off but the choice back-fired as the visitors dominated the opening 40 minutes. Straight from the kick-off, loose Derry play gave Shane O’Riordan a second minute penalty but the out-half was badly off target.
The Judges Road men didn’t heed the warning though and before seven minutes were on the clock, Sunday’s Well had crossed the Derry line, prop Michael Moynihan finally grounding the ball after a forceful forward drive.
The home side responded with Neil Burns’ penalty but a failure at the set-pieces, most notably in the line-out, saw Derry constantly squander decent field possession and hand the initiative back to the Cork team.
Twenty-two minutes in, Sunday’s Well extended their lead and again the score owed everything to the strength of the pack. Good possession was secured from a line-out metres inside the Derry half before a brilliant driving maul took the visitors deep inside the Derry ‘22, eventually forcing hooker John Moynihan over the line for a second unconverted try and a 10-3 lead.
The home side should have pulled a try back after setting up camp on the Sunday’s Well line but they were constantly held up before Derry frustration spilled over with Chris Cooper being yellow carded for his part in a fracas as he tried to free himself.
The loss of Cooper was a blow and Sunday’s Well took full advantage. From the restart a sweeping move involving more than one superb off-load took the Cork side the length of the pitch with winger Joshua Neilson applying the finishing touch for 15-3.
O’Riordan for the visitors, and Burns for Derry both missed penalties but Derry were probably happy to hear the half-time whistle for a chance to regroup.
Four minutes into the second half and another huge forward drive brought Well another penalty from which O’Riordan extended their lead.
Eighteen points adrift, Derry finally gathered themselves and dominated the remainder of the game but were met head on by an excellent Well defence.
Burn’s brilliant try under the posts did offer a glimmer of hope, the centre darting between two men and converting to bring the deficit back to 11 points but that was as good as it got for the home team.
Even when flanker Cyprian Jouve received a yellow card that could have gone to any one of a number of his team mates for constant infringements at the breakdown, Well had enough to hold Derry off. Their ability to kill the game by slowing things down may not have been pretty and was a huge source of frustration to both the home crowd and players, but it was effective as Derry’s late pressure was contained with a degree of comfort.
The final whistle merely confirmed what had looked on the cards from early in the first half. Derry’s promotion bid was over. An extensive list of absentees had finally took its toll but the fatal blow was probably struck last week against Barnhall.
The first half of the season showed Derry had the team to win the league. The second half however highlighted they didn’t have the squad.
City of Derry: Chris Shiels, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy; Adam Bratton, Chris Cooper, Corey Logan, John Burns, Craig Huey, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Neil Burns, David Funston, David Graham, Ali Beckett. (Replacements) Jason Mitchell, Eoin Ferry, Neil Brown, Richard Baird, Brian Prue, Stuart Simpson, Johnny Kennedy.
Sunday’s Well: Michael Moynihan, John Moynihan, Francis Moynihan, James Mulcahy, Owen Glynn, Kieron Stokes, Cyprian Jouve, Sean Glynn, Peter Arigho, Shane O’Riordan, Josh Neilson, Eoin Hurley, Mark Chandler, Cathal Quinn, Greg Higgins. (Replacements) John Barry, Neville O’Donoghue, Steven Kelly, Ethan Ackland, Evan O’Connell, Ross O’Mahony, Eoin Geary.
Referee: Dermot Blake (IRFU)