All Ireland League Division 2C
City of Derry 7, Ballina 26
The scoreline befits one team sitting top and one struggling toward the bottom but the cold hard fact was City of Derry contributed to their own downfall every bit as much as league leaders Ballina earned an eighth win in nine AIL Division 2C games.
The atrocious conditions dictated the proverbial game of two halves with an almost gale force breeze blowing straight down the pitch at the Craig Thompson Stadium. Derry faced it in the opening half but it wasn't the driving wind and rain that left them 26-0 down at half-time, it was basic errors from a side trying to force the the issue too much, especially in the final 10 minutes before half-time.
It was a horrible day to play but the frustration for Paul O'Kane and every Derry supporter was the obvious potential of the team was on display for large portions of the match. Unfortunately so too was the vast inexperience of side which has many still finding their feet at All Ireland level.
Experience can't be coached, it has to be absorbed through the pain or the joy of the collective effort, Sadly for Derry this was a case of the former.
Four first half tries had Ballina's bonus point in the bag by the interval but three came directly from Derry mistakes.
Facing the breeze, play was always going to be concentrated in the home half for the first 40 minutes but Derry's ambition suffered a blow only six minutes in when Craig Huey picked up a harsh yellow card after he was adjudged to have lifted his man dangerously off the ground in the tackle.
Being battered by both Ballina and the weather, Derry were under the cosh from there on with the extra man handing the Mayo men domination in the scrum in the early stages. And it took only 120 seconds with the numerical advantage for Ballina to hit the front when out-half Kieran Lindsay danced through three non-existent tackles to run a a very soft try from a home viewpoint. Lindsay formed one half of a potent Ballina attacking axis with outside centre Calum Quinn and when the former converted his own try, Ballina were off and running.
Five minutes later, they had their second. turning the ball over in midfield, the visitors won a penalty which was immediately dispatched to the corner from where the line-out was secured and big second row Andrew West barged his way over. Again, it was too easy with Lindsay rubbing salt into the wound with a fantastic touchline conversion.
Fourteen points down, Derry rallied and produced some good phases of controlled rugby in the conditions. Indeed one excellent move saw Simon Logue send Davy Graham away down the right, Graham's blistering pace taking him clear with only a desperate last ditch tackle from covering winger Darragh Whyte stopping him from scoring.
Still most home fans would have been happy with a 14 point deficit given the prospect of Derry being backed by the gale after the break and with seven minutes left of the half, that was exactly the scenario.
However, by the time the short whistle sounded that lead had almost been doubled and both tries were easily avoidable.
First, with Derry attacking on the left, a loose pass was seized upon by Ballina winger Bradley Nealon who kicked ahead and gave chase. In the end he kicked too far ahead and never made it but only after being hindered in his chase by the covering Derry defence. A penalty try was duly awarded and Derry trailed by 21.
That was bad but the fourth try was a heart-breaker. Derry's best period of the half had Ballina desperately holding on yards from their own line. A try seemed certain but not at the end it arrived and it is one young out-half Alec McDonnell will want to forget.
Looking around for options, McDonnell, who was superb against Midleton last week, inexplicably threw a pass straight to visiting winger Chris O'Neill. Derry full back James Perry had joined the attack so O'Neill had the freedom of the pitch to sprint in for an unconverted try and a 26-0 half-time lead.
It was a mountain to climb for Derry who never looked like getting the necessary momentum to close the gap despite a vastly improved second half backed by the elements.
Stephen Corr led the charge but too often, Derry left chances out on the pitch, Ben Pollin letting the first opportunity of the second period when he couldn't quite gather a pass.
Penalty after penalty was arriving for Derry but it took until the 65th minute for the home pressure to eventually tell. David Ferguson was the instigator as Derry began to go through the phases which ended with Gerard Doherty taking three Ballina players with him as he forced his way over for a deserved score.
Matthew Orr converted for a glimmer of hope that could have been turned into something more tangible had Graham been able to capitalise on another characteristically barnstorming run.
Ballina lost front row players Conor Mason and Shane Clarke to yellow cards as Derry were continued to pen the visitors back. Scrum after scrum simply added to the frustration of the home players and supporters who thought a penalty try should have been awarded. It wasn't and the game fizzled out into another afternoon which glimpsed at the potential of Derry young team while simultaneously reminding they remain a work in progress.
City of Derry: James Hamilton, David Ferguson, Ben Pollin, Jack Townley, Gerard Doherty, Craig Huey, Christopher Lamberton, Stephen Corr, Simon Logue, Alex McDonnell, Thomas Cole, Dennis Posternak, David Lapsley, David Graham, James Perry.
Replacements: Ross Harkin, Sam Duffy, Jonathan Lyons, Matthew Orr, Philip Duffy.
Ballina: Conor Mason, Luke Sweeney, Shane Clarke, Tim Wallace, Andrew West, John Keaveney, Fergal Tully, Neal Moylett, Michael Murphy, Kieran Lindsay, Bradley Nealon, Alex Corduff, Calum Quinn, Darragh Whyte, Christopher O’Neill.
Replacements: Billy McVann, Harry Hewson, Brian Boland, Craig McCormick, Dylan Prendergast.
Referee: Mr Glenn Sheridan.