RUGBY: City of Derry's relegation confirmed after Sunday's Well defeat

City of Derry's relegation was confirmed by a defeat to Sunday's Well.
City of Derry's relegation was confirmed by a defeat to Sunday's Well.

Ulster Bank AIL Division 2B

City of Derry 8, Sunday's Well 15

The rebuilding job starts now.

With the most inevitable of relegations confirmed by a 15-8 defeat to Sunday's Well, the challenge for City of Derry is to ensure they don't find themselves in this position again in 12 months time.

That's not scaremongering. It's realistic. Forget talk of promotion targets for next season, now is about steadying the 'good ship Derry'.

The club has been in this position (and worse) before and always found the resources to bounce back but with a dwindling player pool and fewer players coming through traditional conveyor belts, this could be the most challenging of rebuilding jobs.

Expect plenty of changes of the coming months at the Craig Thompson Stadium and recruitment has to be a priority.

The biggest surprise going into Saturday's game was that Derry still held out a reasonable hope of avoiding the drop. Remember, you have to go back to Saturday, September 23rd 2017 for Derry's last win, a 32-17 victory over a Belfast Harlequins team they face next week.

Twelve points adrift of Harlequins going into this weekend, a victory over Sunday's Well would have left Derry in a position to take the fight to their final game had they completed the double over the Belfast team. However the deduction of five points for their inability to field against Dungannon in December all but relegated Derry and Saturday felt like a mercy killing.

Ironically though Saturday was a game Derry could have won. Once more, Derry's young side could not be faulted for endeavour or spirit. They fought to the final whistle but inexperience cost them at least three tries.

Derry did at least pick up a losing bonus point to move their points tally off zero and that was the least they deserved. That same spirit, coupled with some clever recruitment over the summer, and further experience for young players who have been thrust into the All Ireland League very early and maybe the picture is not so gloomy.

Knowing they needed at least 13 points from their final three games of the season, Derry needed a good start against Sunday's Well but it was the visitors who took charge early on.

The game was barely 10 minutes old and had been played predominantly in the home half when prop Ian Murphy crashed over for an unconverted try for the Munster men.

Bereft of confidence, it was a blow Derry could have done without and when centre Eoin Geary took advantage of Mike Boland's excellent initial break only three minutes later to finish off another attack, the signs were ominous for the home side.

Derry had a let off when another Well prop, Evan Connell, inexplicably dropped an easy pass to let a third try escape on 26 minutes but Derry rallied to end the half strongly.

Camped on their own line, the home side, with Craig Huey and Davy Ferguson consistently putting their bodies on the line, Derry bulldozed their way down field with some great carries which forced two penalties that took them into the visitors' corner. A malfunctioning line-out cost them that opportunity but Derry managed to win turn-over ball at the Well scrum an d from there, play was switched left superbly.

Kyle Henderson at full back looks a real prospect and was able to join the line at pace and when held up, Conall Gill was there in support to gather and forced his way over the line.

The conversion was missed but at 5-1, Derry were back in a game they had to win.

If anything half-time came at the wrong moment for Derry as it allowed Sunday's Well to regroup and within four minutes of the restart hooker Kieran Stokes was pushing his way over for a third Well try and a 5-15 lead.

Within seconds Davy Graham had made a superb midfield break to take Derry into the visiting half. Paddy Blenerhassett was in support and he released Henderson, once again joining the attack at an opportune moment. Winger Nathan Cole was the spare man to score but he stepped inside the Well cover instead of powering to the line and the chance was lost.

That inexperience reared its head on a number of occasions and cost Derry tries but these young players will also benefit from their exposure to All Ireland rugby.

Well flanker Cyprian Jouve was yellow carded for constant offside infringements and for a period Derry had the visitors on the rack. The pressure brought an easy penalty which Davy Graham kick for 8-15 but the decision not to kick to the corner probably said were the home confidence levels where at.

Blenerhasstt received a yellow carded for deliberately hauling back Shane O'Riordan as he chased a kick though and looked set to score but bizarrely no penalty try was awarded. In fact there would be no more points.

Derry defended well while the visitors were content to claim the win.

The final whistle confirmed a fate that has been coming for months but it also should signal the start of a bigger task - the rebuilding job.

City of Derry: Ross Harkin, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Jack Townley, Stephen Corr, Jake McDevitt, Craig Huey, Tiernan Thornton, Conall Gill, Conor Cummings, David Graham, Paddy Blenerhassett, Nathan Cole, Kyle Henderson. (Replacements) Ryan King Magee, Cathal Cregan, Barry Laverty, Callum McDonald, Richard McCarter.

Sunday's Well: Ian Murphy, Kieran Stokes, Evan Connell, James Mulcahy, Ethan Acklund, Cyprian Jouve, Conor O'Brien, Cormac Kelliher, Peter Arigho, Shane O'Riordan, Rob O'Keefe, Josh Featherstone, Eoin Geary, Sean Keohane, Mike Boland. (Replacements) Cormac Axom, John Barry, Shane Desmond, Julian Power Danny Courtney.

Referee: Oisin Quinn (IRFU)