All Ireland League Division 2C
City of Derry 23, Omagh 19
A first All Ireland League win of the season but Saturday's victory over Omagh was worth more than merely four points to City of Derry.
After two, heartbreaking defeats, the Co. Tyrone side represented the barometer upon which Derry's season potential would be judged. Lose and the pressure is on going into the two week break. Victory however transforms those first two fixtures in a positive start given the three bonus points already secured.
An Ulster derby is not easy at the best of times, but with the stakes high, this was a chance for Paul O'Kane's side to show their pre-season target of a play-off spot was more than just wishful thinking.
It was an opportunity Derry grasped with both hands.
Omagh came into the game undefeated and eyeing the top of the table but found a Derry side determined to change their AIL luck. Two-try Callum O'Hagan was the Derry hero, his winner coming only two minutes from the end of normal time but he wasn't alone in a team full of big performances.
Indeed the early introduction of 18-year-old tight head prop, Jack Sayers was one of the game's most pivotal. the teenager belied his tender years with a display of power and maturity that steadied the Derry ship after an uncertain start.
O'Hagan, however, was the match winner. Not content with an assist for Stephen Corr's try in the first half, the young winger managed to steal the limelight from traditional 'headline hogger', Davy Graham, even if the jet heeled centre was responsible for setting him up for his opening score.
The only black spot on an otherwise excellent afternoon for Derry was a second half hamstring injury for full back Neil Burns who had been excellent before being forced off. His absence meant a late cameo for Dutch scrum-half Rico Schneider and he didn't disappoint, injecting pace and invention as Derry surged for the winning try.
The afternoon didn't start as well as it ended for Derry though with Omagh hitting the front after only seven minutes. The catalyst was a misfiring Derry line-out that gave trouble throughout and which proved more useful to the visitors than the home side.
An initial overthrow in the Omagh half had put Derry on the back foot, forcing them deep inside their own '22' but a second home line-out looked to be a way out of trouble. It wasn't. Instead, Omagh stole it and after a series of drives, big front row Richard Hemphill forced his way over for a 5-0 lead.
Deane Kane's high tackle on David Lapsley allowed Burns to bring it back to 3-5 from a 16th minute penalty but only three minutes later the dangerous Luke Hanson had danced his way through a non-existent Derry defence for a soft score which Scott Elliott converted for 3-12 with things looking ominous for a home side who were second best at that point.
Derry needed inspiration and, as he has so often down the years, Stephen Corr answered the call.
Derry won a penalty with 28 minutes on the clock. Quick thinking Simon Logue switched play right with a 'tap and go' as Graham and O'Hagan stretched the Omagh defence with some great pace. The latter looked to be in but was stopped short but as he went to ground he was able to get his offload away to the supporting Corr who bulldozed his way over and took three Omagh defender with him in doing so.
The kick was missed but Derry were in the ascendancy and spent the remainder of the half pressing omagh back inside their '22'. O'Hagan should have put Thomas Cole in for a try but miscued the final pass while a forward pass stopped Davy Graham going over on the other side.
Well into injury time, Derry won a penalty close to the Omagh line and anxious not to leave with nothing for their concerted spell of dominance, opted to take the three points courtesy of Burns to leave it 11-12 at the break.
Three minutes into the second half and Derry had the lead for the first time. O'Hagan was the finisher but it owed everything to the breathtaking pace of Davy Graham who broke from midfield, headed right and took three Omagh defenders with him before finding O'Hagan who finished in the corner for a 16-12 lead.
That score prompted an Omagh fightback and approaching the hour mark, they regained the initiative when hooker Phil Ewing got on the end of a strong driving maul. With Ellott converting Omagh led 16-19.
The loss of burns to a hamstring injury that could rule him out for between 4-6 weeks was another test for Derry's young squad. Omagh used big prop Mark Smyth to constantly batter the home defences but eventually Derry weathered the storm and launched a final assault.
This time Derry secured possession off a line-out and worked play left, going through the phases as the move switched back right in front of the posts. Somehow, Logue, now operating at full back, spotted a gap and danced between three tackles. He couldn't find the line but only yards short he found O'Hagan there in support to dive over under the posts.
The excellent Alex McDonnell converted and Derry had the points. They should also have the confidence to take this level of performance anywhere in the division. The win moves them into sixth but with only four points separating top from bottom, this league is going to be one of fine margins but this is something to build on
City of Derry: Jimmy Hamilton, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Quermy Warmerdam, Stephen Kelly, Craig Huey, Tiernan Thornton, Steph Corr, Simon Logue, Alex McDonnell, Thomas Cole, David Lapsley, David Graham, Callum O'Hagan, Neil Burns. (Replacements) Ross Harkin, Jack Sayers, Richie Baird, Cain McColgan, Rico Schneider.
Omagh: Richard Hemphill, Phil Ewing, Mark Smyth, Jonny Sproule, Jamie Sproule, James Catterson, Jack Mitchel, Matthew Clyde, Stewart McCain, Scott Elliott, Ryan Mitchel, Luke Hanson, Deane Kane, Neil Browne, Kyle Beattie. (Replacements) Mervyn Edgar, Peter Todd, Ethan McKeown, Eoin Murnaghan, Stewart Ballantine.
Referee: Colm Roche (IRFU)