Bank of Ireland, All Ireland League Division 2C
City of Derry 19, Midleton RFC 18
Seasons can hinge on single matches. Pivotal weekends when a group of players either stand or fall over 80 minutes. Saturday felt like that for City of Derry.
Pitted against a Midleton team sitting second in AIL Division 2C after only two defeats this season, Paul O'Kane's team weren't exactly drinking in last chance saloon, rather they were perusing the menu after a run of results which left them precariously placed toward the bottom end of the table.
And while this single point victory can't eradicate those worries on its own, what it should do is illustrate to a talented group of young players exactly what they are capable of achieving because they were superb.
All the home points were secured before half-time thanks to a try from the elusive Simon Logue and a double from No. 8 Stephen Corr, whose presence was immense throughout alongside the brilliant Davy Ferguson who rose from his sickbed to put in a huge display. He wasn't along though. Adam Bratton, Conor McMenamin (on his home debut) Jimmy Hamilton, Davy Lapsely, David Graham, every player made sure they left everything on the pitch.
Yet, central to a hard hitting win which could prove a line in the sand for the local side was the teenage half back pairing of Rory McGinty and Alex McDonnell. Neither is the biggest but what they lacked in size, they more than made up for in aggression and line speed.
McGinty was making his first start and brought a pace to the Derry attack which has been missing. He looks a missing piece of the Derry jigsaw. A natural No. 9, his creativity bought time for McDonnell and the pair dovetailed beautifully with McDonnell in particular responsible for some huge hits at vital times in the game.
McDonnell has been asked to learn quickly in the No. 10 shirt this season and his performances have been understandably inconsistent as he finds his feet but there is no doubting his talent. His manager knows what he is capable of and Saturday was the best display in a Derry shirt from a player O'Kane could shape his side around.
The result, coupled with Thomond's defeat of Tullamore, moved Derry into seventh position but with Seapoint surprisingly winning against Omagh, things are tighter than ever at the bottom so this result must proving a starting point rather than a one off if Derry are to progress.
A few repeats of the opening 40 minutes against Midleton and Derry will have nothing to worry about. It was their best rugby of the season.
There was only two minutes on the clock when McDonnell spotted a gap no one else had seen and jump between tackles to break the Midleton defensive line. he raced to halfway and when faced with the cover, found the supporting Logue whose pace meant a try was a mere formality and Derry were five up before three minutes had elapsed.
The Munster men responded with a Stuart Lee penalty on 10 minutes and four minutes later they were in front in controversial circumstances as the referee missed a a blatant knock-on in the build-up to Louis Farnham's touching down. Lee's conversion only added to the pain for the home side with seemingly everyone in the ground except the man that mattered spotting the infringement.
With the visitors now 10-5 up, Derry had to respond. Four knock-ons had already put pay to promising attacks but on 36 minutes got the reward their endeavour deserved.
After working the territory down the left side, Derry went through the cycles inside the Midleton '22' until, with little on, Corr spotted decided to take the direct approach, breaking two tackles and bursting clear to score under the posts.
McDonnell converted and Derry had the lead once more but they were not finished just yet.
As the clock ticked into first half injury time, a superb break down the right saw Davy Graham and Davy Lapsely combined to eventually win Derry a five metre scrum. Derry were dominating the set piece and on their second push, Corr picked up at the base to dragged about three would be tacklers over the line with him. Against McDonnell was sure with the boot and Derry were in control at the break with a 19-10 lead.
And if the first half was about skill, the second about heart!
Midleton lost hooker Bryan Moore to an early yellow card after being deliberately offside but Derry couldn't capitalise on the numerical advantage.
Back to their full quota, the Cork men started to turn the screw with big second row Denis Broderick being forced over on 63 minutes following a short throw at a line-out Derry could have avoided.
It went unconverted but when Lee grabbed his second penalty of the day to leave only one point between them with still 12 minutes remaining, it was 'squeaky bum' time for home supporters.
Questions were asked, notably during six minutes of injury time but the huge hits kept coming from the home side, every man putting his body on the line to secure a win that could prove a catalyst for a change of fortune.
City of Derry: Jimmy Hamilton, David Ferguson, Ben Pollin, Adam Bratton, Gerard Doherty, Conor McMenamin, Chris Lamberton, Stephen Corr, Rory McGinty, Alex McDonnell, Callum O'Hagan, Thomas Cole, David Lapsley, David Graham, Simon Logue.
(Replacements) Ross Harkin, Paddy Owens, Craig Huey, Collie Campbell, James Perry.
Midleton RFC: Kevin Brierly, Bryan Moore, Mark Corby, Denis Broderick, Jon Gardiner, Charlie Murphy, Aidan Ware, Micheal Conin, Rob Smyth, Stuart Lee, Rian Hogan, Mauric Daly, Benji Cottle, Louis Farnham, Daniel Murray.
(Replacements) Cormac Ryan, Ger MCIntyre, Steve Kelly, Rory Horgan, Martijn Korterik.
Referee: Henry Richmond.