City of Derry 15, Skerries 32
What promises to be a challenging All Ireland League Division 2B season got off to a disappointing start for City of Derry as they went down 32-5 to Skerries at Judges Road on Saturday.
Despite some encouraging periods, especially in the second half, defensive mistakes and poor decision making cost Derry at crucial junctions in the game. The visitors’ off loading was excellent but their hosts made it easy for them at times.
There is still room for optimism though. Derry’s close season problems mean the new management team are still trying to fully implement their ideas and there were signs of improvement from last week’s Ulster league mauling against Banbridge. The return of William McCleery is an obvious boost but with a trip to Armagh next up in the AIL, the challenge will be to ensure they are not playing catch-up all season with a very limited numbers on their panel.
Derry enjoyed an excellent start to the game, forcing Skerries back and winning a fifth minute penalty which Neil Burns superbly sent between the posts from wide out along the left touchline.
The 3-0 lead should have settled the young Derry side yet within 45 seconds they were behind as in experience told from the restart. Skerries regained possession with a minimum of fuss and with Derry scrambling to get defensive cover, big second row Joe Glennon, forced his way over under the posts with Paul O’Loughlin converting.
The home heads didn’t drop though. Instead they responded in style, Cathal Cregan superbly creeping off the side of a maul to ghost in behind the Skerries defence for an 8-7 lead with 12 minutes on the clock.
That was the ‘good’. Then we had 120 of the ‘bad’ and it left Derry chasing the game.
In a carbon copy of a short line-out that brought Banbridge a try last week, Skerries threw short to No. 8 Ross McAuley who had peeled off from the back and had a clear run into the corner.
Worse was to follow when, 60 seconds later ,with Derry having failed to secure the restart, O’Loughlin chipped a short ball over Derry heads. The covering defence was too deep and hooker Kieran Leonard seized the kick, made ground and fed McAuley who powered over for his second try. With O’Loughlin converting, the game had seen a 12-point swing in less than two minutes as Skerries led 19-8.
A Billy Mulcahy penalty just before the break left the visitors 22-8 up but there was enough to suggest Derry weren’t out of it at that point.
What they needed was the first score of the second half and they didn’t get it. In fact Skerries needed only two minutes to extend their lead and take the game out of Derry’s reach, hooker Leonard touching down for 27-8 advantage.
The excellent McAuley completed his hat-trick with a converted effort seven minutes later and from there it was only about Derry trying to salvage pride from the game.
They managed that comfortably with a spirited final quarter which brought a try for Richard Baird and could have taken them closer had they possessed more of a cutting edge.
There was a late yellow card for Skerries flanker Tom O’Hare but it mattered little, the visitors deserved their win.
The Derry coaching team probably saw enough to build on, even if it was a disappointing start, but it now becomes a race against time. The club’s lack of pre-season preparation was apparent at times and they need to bridge that gap but time is not on their side.
City of Derry: Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, James Fawcett, Craig Huey, John Burns, Richard Baird, Ben Barbour, Neil Burns, William McCleery, Stuart Simpson, David Graham, Jack Beattie, Matthew Kilgore. (Replacements) Eoin Ferry, Stephen Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Richard McCarter, Ian Bratton.
Skerries: Mark Nally, Kieran Leonard, John Condron, Joe Glennon, Ben Jenkinson, Tom O’Hare, Michael Turvey, Ross McAuley, Eoghan Carron, Paul O’Loughlin, Paul Devitt, Colin Doyle, Ross Dempsey, Lorcan Jones, David Quirke. (Replacements) Conn Marry, Conor Roynane, Cormac Marry; Maurice McAuley, Bill Mulcahy.
Referee: Jason Cairns (IRFU)