CITY of Derry suffered their first defeat in this year’s Ulster Senior League when they narrowly went down 23-19 at Dungannon, on Saturday.
Derry started the game poorly and gifted Dungannon an early try and were down 7-13 at half-time. The Judges Road men dominated the second half and deserve to win but were unable to get that elusive winning score.
Mark Nicholl’s side started the game in determined fashion but atrocious handling and passing thwarted any chance of putting real pressure on Dungannon.
It seemed as the break in the fixture list last weekend had left the Judges Road players rusty as there was no real flow, structure or movement to their game.
The Stevenson Park men opened the scoring after ten minutes when their scrum half Jake Finlay converted a penalty from 30 metres following a scrum infringement from Derry.
Dungannon scored again two minutes later following a catalogue of basic errors from Derry. It started with miss fielding from the kick-off, then poor passing lack of control and protection at the breakdown allowed Steven Sinnamon the Gannon hooker to hack the ball through and touch down for a try under the posts and Finlay converted for a 10-0 lead.
Derry suddenly switched on their game heads and their back row produced, Adam Bratton and Tom Patton combined to allow No 8 Richard Baird to make a break into the opposition 22 and off load to David Funston who touched down for a try wide out and with Andrew Semple converting.
The visitors were back in the game at 7-10 down with 15 minutes gone. Derry came straight back at Dungannon from the kick off and good play down the left wing should have resulted in a try except for a misplaced pass to a Dugannon player scuppered the move. Jake Finlay kicked another penalty for Dungannon on twenty minutes as both teams struggled to get any flow into their game and the half-time score was 13-7 in favour of the home side.
Derry were a different team from the off in the second half, they had a couple of penalty misses in the first ten minutes that could have levelled the scores. Derry brought on Cathal Cregan, Chris Shields and Sam Duffy along with Bob McKillop and Chris Barber and they were now dominating up front. Chris Cooper made a fine break on sixteen minutes right into the Dungannon 22 and when play was switched right by Semple winger David Graham touched down for a try and with Semple converting Derry were ahead for the first time in the game leading 14-13.
It was now all Derry but Finlay eked out a penalty on 65 minutes as a result of Dungannon’s only visit to the Derry half and they were back in the lead at 16-14.
Soon after Dungannon scored again in their only other foray into the Derry half when centre Paul Magee touched down for a try after a great drive from second row Mark Jenkinson and when finally converted Dungannon’s lead to 23-14.
The Judges Road men stormed straight back at Dungannon and great play from Chris Barber setup Peter Henderson who got in for an unconverted try on 74 minutes to leave the score 23-19 in Dungannon’s favour.
Derry threw everything at Dungannon and it was all out attack for the last five minutes; Derry deserved to get in for a score especially with the last play of the game when the space was created but a knock on saved the day for the Tyrone men and they held on for a narrow 23-19 victory.
City of Derry got a bonus point form this game and are now four points ahead of nearest rivals Ballynahinch who come to Judges Road this Saturday for a top of the league clash that will probably decide the destination of the Ulster Senior League title.
City of Derry: Steven Jefferson, David Ferguson, Paul McFeely, Chris Cooper, Stephen Corr, Adam Bratton, Tom Patton, Richard Baird, Jack Caithness, Andrew Semple, William McCleery, Ryan Campbell, David Funston, David Graham, Peter Henderson. Replacements: Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, Chris Barber.