Cikty of Derry score huge All Ireland League victory over Midelton in injury time
All Ireland League, Division 2C
City of Derry 10, Midleton 6
If City of Derry retain their All Ireland League status this season, or manage to mount an unexpected play-off charge, any success will be traced back to the eighth minute of injury time on Saturday, June 11th.
The Derry hero was a familiar one but make no mistake, Paul O'Kane's men were staring down the barrel. A pre-Christmas defeat to Midleton in Limerick had brought the Munster men right back into contention at the bottom of AIL Division 2C. A second successive loss to them could have seen Derry cut adrift and severely dented their survival hopes.
Instead victory has the Judges Road men three points off fourth spot. Those are the margins in AIL 2C.
It was a dramatic afternoon, never short of controversy and, of course, every drama needs a hero .
Step forward Simon Logue.
Not for the first time in his career in the 'green and black', the enigmatic Logue produced that moment of magic just when his club needed him and this one could be huge. With Bangor and Tullamore also winning, it could prove a pivotal weekend when the dust settles on a division which is likely to go to its final game at both ends of the table.
When the margins are that fine, you have to find a way to win when not at your best and this victory was about character as much as ability. Probably more so in fact.
Midleton's performance belied a struggling side. They were compact and powerful with a hugely dangerous box kicking game in conditions that made handling difficult but they lacked a cutting edge in attack.
That said, there was nothing between the teams and Logue's decisive contribution was the game's only try. It was not one for the purists.
But Derry have found themselves on the wrong end of last play defeats this year, notably in their opening two games of the season so this felt like payback though it was achieved only through sheer strength of will as both sides were left feeling hard done by after a number of controversial refereeing decisions.
The opening 20 minutes was all Midleton but their only reward was a fourth minute penalty from captain, Stuart Lee.
Derry rarely threatened except for one exceptional break from Logue from inside his own half. Operating at full-back, he joined the line at pace to take play well inside the Midleton half. Rico Schneider was supporting and, in turn, he off loaded to Davy Graham but for once the jet heeled Graham couldn't finish thanks to a superb, try saving tackle from Louis Farnham.
An Alex McDonnell penalty eventually levelled the game at 3-3 just after the half hour but it wasn't a half that would live long in the memory.
As with the first, the second half started with a Lee penalty, this time the Midleton captain slotting over a superb long range effort from five metres inside Derry's half for 3-6.
Both sides were struggling with some of the referee's interpretations and Midleton's second row Michael Cronin paid the price for one indiscretion too many when he was yellow carded on 46 minutes. Derry seized on the opportunity to batter the visitors' line with phase after phase but a combination of brilliant Midleton defence and a reluctance by Derry to get the ball wide quickly enough meant the line stayed intact.
Derry were already enjoying the better of the second period but the switch of Logue to scrum-half midway through the half was instrumental in giving O'Kane's men a firm grip on the game. Indeed they should have had a try on the hour mark.
Hemming Midleton back, play was switched left to Davy Graham who had two men outside waiting to the pass which would provide an easy run in. The pass came okay but so did a Midleton hand to knock down a ball it was never going to intercept.
The touch judge flagged and most waited for the inevitable penalty try. Except it didn't come. After consultation, the referee awarded Derry the scrum must to the bemusement of Graham.
It looked a decision that would haunt Derry until the game's dramatic finale intervened.
With two minutes left, another superb Logue break was the catalyst for a Derry press the eventually saw play switched right to substitute David Lapsley. However with Callum O'Hagan spare he went for the gap and the chance was gone.
Two minutes later, Derry won themselves a relatively straight forward penalty for a kicker of McDonnell's ability but pressure does strange things and the normally reliable McDonnel held his head in his hands as his kick struck the upright and rebounded out.
And so 3-6 it remained but not one Derry player was giving anything up as Midelton battled for their lives despite losing Alexander O'Brien to another yellow card.
The clock ticked on. Five minutes into injury time, and with Derry still pressing, the touch judge signals foul play but the game continues for a full two minutes with Midleton indeed clearing before the referee's attention is drawn to his touch judge.
Another long discussion and Midleton consternation, play is brought back for another Derry scrum. It was now or never. Derry threw everything in, drawing Midleton in before switching right. Lapsely and O'Hagan both played their part in taking the drive only a metre from the try line but the Limerick men were holding firm.
They hadn't account for Logue though and, as he tends to do, he spotted a gap no one else had noticed, sniping in under a crowd of feet for a try that could have a huge influence of the seasons of both teams. McDonnell showed his character with a difficult conversion that took Derry's lead beyond three meaning Midelton would need a try of their own. There wasn't time and the victory will mean much more than four points.
Derry's job now is to make sure it's a platform on which the rest of their season is built.
City of Derry: Jimmy Hamilton, Ross Harkin, Sam Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Stephen Corr, Chris Lamberton, Tiernan Thornton, Richard Baird, Rico Schneider, Alex McDonnell, Thomas Cole, Neil Burns, David Graham, Callum O'Hagan, Simon Logue. (Replacements) Cathal Cregan, Quermy Warmerdam, Craig Huey, David Lapsley, Dennis Posternak.
Midleton: Mark Corby, Bryan Moore, Cormac Ryan, Gavin Mullins, Aidan McCarthy, Michael Cronin, Nicholas Daly, Robert Carey, William Casey, Stuart Lee, Julian Power, Grearoid Collins, Benjamin Cottle, Daniel Murray, Rory Horgan. (Replacements) Alexander O'Brien, Geard McIntyre, Steven England, Louis Farnham, Robert Smyth.
Referee: Marcus Casey