City of Derry 13, Thomond 13
City of Derry stopped a run of five successive defeats but are still waiting on a first win of the new season after Neil Burns’ superb late penalty secured a draw in a dramatic finale at Judges Road on Saturday.
Having already suffered All Ireland League Division 2B defeats to Skerries and Armagh in their opening two games, Derry’s gradual improvement continued but this was two points dropped rather than two gained after the home side failed to take advantage of an impressive opening.
The result means the Limerick side remain bottom of the 2B table on points difference from Derry who travel to high flying Greystones next week.
A breathless finale saw Burns kick his match saving penalty from 10m inside the Thomond half but within 30 seconds of getting back on level terms, the home side could have first won the game and then lost it in a period of play which summed up an inconsistent season so far.
Burns’ brilliant kick was the adrenaline shot Derry needed after a lacklustre second half but arriving in the 80th minute, it looked to come too late to mount a bid for victory. However Derry forced Thomond back with Ian Bratton almost getting over before Burns skewed a very kickable drop goal effort wide.
That looked to be that until young Matthew Murdock found himself isolated and turned over as Thomond’s full-back Dermot Fitzgerald - the visitors best players on the day - found a gap and looked to be in until Jack Beattie produced a match saving tackle only metres short of the Derry line.
The breakdown saw Sam Duffy penalised and yellow carded for deliberately kicking the ball out from an offside position. Judges Road took a deep breath but Fitzgerald’s touchline penalty drifted inches the wrong side of the posts to leave both sides feeling somewhat short changed at the final whistle.
The drama of the last few minutes were mirrored in the opening two minutes as Derry hit the front only 68 seconds in. The impressive Ian Bratton won a race for possession to gather a kick forward and score in the corner for a five point lead.
It was exactly the start Derry wanted and it could have been better five minutes later when scrum-half Ben Barber and back row, Richard Baird, almost manufactured a try off the the blindside of a dominant Derry scrum.
The home pack had the measure of their Limerick counterparts from early on but against the run of play Thomond brought it back to 3-5 after loose Derry play presented Fitzgerald a penalty on 14 minutes.
It was an rare foray forward for the Limerick men but within six minutes, Derry had their second try of the opening 20 minutes.
Thomond’s David O’Halloran was penalised for interfering with Copper on a Derry line-out. The home side kicked into the corner and from the line-out secured another scrum. Thomond prop Antone Sheehy, sensing what was coming, stood up in the scrum as Derry forced them back. Derry’s drive was stopped but even after the prop was replaced it made no difference to the outcome. The Judges Road men drove the visiting scrum backwards at a rate of knots with No. 8 Stephen Corr given the easy task of grounding the ball at the foot of the scrum for 10-3 lead.
At this point it was all Derry but it would be another hour’s play before Derry troubled the scoreboard again.
A succession of chances came and went with a loose Barber pass presenting Thomond a scarcely deserved penalty to mean that for all their first half dominance, Derry went into half-time with only a 10-6 interval lead.
The second half was a different matter. Thomond seemed to have shook off any ill effects of their long journey north and with full-back Fitzgerald controlling play from his deep position they managed to negate the influence of the Derry pack.
Fifteen minutes into the half, Thomond hit the front with a flowing move they visited both touchlines before ending with winger Garry Bateman scoring and Fitzgerald converting for a 10-13 lead.
That was it as far as the scoring went until Burns stepped forward to bravely bring his side level in injury time.
Derry deserved at least that for their first half performance. Despite the disappointment of the result bin a match Derry will have targeted for victory, it is another step forward for a young squad who are learning in an unforgiving environment. That won’t get any easier next week against Greystones but if increased experience leads to better decision making, this squad is moving in the right direction.
City of Derry: Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Chris Cooper, Adam Bratton, Craig Huey, Ben Barber, Richard McCarter, Tiernan Thornton, Neil Burns, Josh Lewis, Ian Bratton, Jack Beattie. (Replacements) Eoin Ferry, Stephen Duffy, Kevin McLaughlin, David Devine, David Murdock.
Thomond: Antone Sheehy, Geoffrey O’Donoghue, Jack Anderson, Ken O’Kane, Mike McMahon, Fintan Cross, David O’Halloran, John Sheehan, Aaron Rice, Allan Wallace, Garry Bateman, Niall Sheehan, Pat Ryan, Dean Cronin, Dermot Fitzgerald. (Replacements) Andrew Carey, Colin Kelly, David Quinlan, James Delarcy, Patcik Healy.
Referee: Glenn Sheridan (IRFU)