All Ireland League Division 2C
City of Derry 19, Seapoint 17
Dramatic finales require last gasp heroes.Step forward Conall Gill.
More than five minutes into injury time with the rugby gods (and at times, the match referee) conspiring against Paul O'Kane's team, it looked like a second successive AIL Division 2C defeat for Derry. Seapoint were two points up and had possession inside their own '22. Time was all but up as the Leinster men sought to kill the last few seconds.
Defeat looked a formality until Gill threw himself into a huge tackle that forced a turnover off the Seapoint back line. Now, Derry had the ball but the clock was still against them. It was all or nothing time.
Derry controlled the scrum. Seapoint wavered, as they had for much of the day, but this time referee Tim Townsend gave the penalty. It was far from easy, sitting around 45m on a slight angle.
The crowd knew it was the last kick. Gill knew it was the last kick. Captain Stephen Corr knew it was the last kick and checked with his young out-half who had endured a difficult match with the boot last week at Bruff.
But, no, he wanted the responsibility and he nailed the kick to make it two wins from two at the Craig Thompson Stadium for Derry, a victory that takes them to sixth with nine points in a table topped by Midleton on 15.
Thrilling, yes, but fully deserved nonetheless. Any other result would have been a travesty after Seapoint winger Declan Byrne's deliberate knock-on stopped a certain try seconds before the match winning penalty.
Byrne was correctly yellow carded but the match official's decision not to award Derry a penalty try was baffling and could have cost them the game. In truth though it was only one of a series of curious decisions but the the referee, most of which centred around his reading of the scrum.
It led to frustration on both sides and deprived the home pack, who looked to have the better of their opposite numbers, a crucial attacking platform.
Minus a number of regulars, this was always going to be a big test for O'Kane's youthful side but they started with a real intent, anxious to make up for 20 minutes of madness to put them out of the game at Bruff the previous week.
Adam Bratton highlighted the desire, chasing the kick-off and ensuring the pressure was on Seapoint from the start.
That initial pressure went unrewarded as Derry's scrum were penalised but within eight minutes Derry had won a turnover from which Gill kicked to the corner. A short throw allowed Craig Huey to drive at the line. He was held up but a couple of recycled phases later, Bratton was crashing over for the perfect start.
The conversion wasn't easy but in a preview of what was to follow, Gill sent it between the posts for a 7-0 lead.
Eventually though Seapoint settled and, coached by Ireland international Eric Millar, they began to dominate with a strong running game that had Derry on the back foot.
The pressure told on 19 minutes when Derry couldn't find touch with a clearing kick which gave Seapoint a platform from which to attack. The Derry defence held out for five minutes but couldn't get the ball clear, a line-out eventually providing the base from which Seapoint No. 8 Paddy Crown forced his way over with Bain Champion's conversion tying up the game.
Derry's response was instant. A Seapoint knock-on was penalised and Gill kicked the home side back in front at 10-7 which became 13-7 for half-time with another Gill penalty.
Seapoint's second half response was swift. Four minutes in the Derry scrum was being talked to again by the referee which allowed Seapoint to build pressure. Derry held firm for a number of phases but eventually cracked and were forced to pull down a Seapoint drive bound for the scoring zone. A penalty try was awarded and Bratton headed for the 'bin' with his side one point down.
The visitors were well on top but couldn't make their extra man count, Derry digging in until another Gill penalty gave them back the lead on 53 minutes.
Seapoint's Tiernan Mealiffe was next to fall foul of the referee and earn himselfa yellow card but this time Derry failed to capitalise and with 10 minutes remaining, a penalty from Kiwi full-back Champion had his team 16-17 up.
The fuse was lit for the explosive finale.
The curious case of the missing penalty try looked to have sealed Derry's fate. It hadn't thanks to Gill's tenacity in the tackle and composure under pressure and victories like this can be priceless.
City of Derry: James Hamilton, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Johnny Lyons, Tiernan Thornton, Craig Huey, Stephen Corr, Simon Logue, Conall Gill, James Perry, Dennis Posternak, David Graham, Callum O'Hagan, Thomas Cole.
(Replacements) Cathal Cregan, Ben Pollin, Christopher Lamberton, David Lapsley, Philip Duffy.
Seapoint: Brian Duggan, Cian Cunningham, Mark McDonald, Mark McCoy, Karl Bittel, Tiernan Mealiffe, Zac Jungmann, Paddy Crown, Sean O'Connor, Cian Buckley, Declan Byrne, Gavin Hughes, Tom O'Reilly, Brian Guerin, Bain Champion.
(Replacements) Harry Byrne, Ronan Banahan, Peter Ferris, Sean O'Connor, Tom Kelly.
Referee: Tim Townsend