AIL Division 2C
City of Derry 27, Bruff RFC 19
City of Derry produced their best performance of the season on the biggest day of their season to ensure All Ireland rugby will return to the Craig Thomspon Stadium at Judges Road next season.
But if AIL survival was the club's main course of the day, Saturday turned into a veritable 'Green and Black' banquet as the club's second string secured the Provincial League Division 3 title with victory over Randalstown while the Thirds lifted the Butler Shield thanks to a 41-0 win against Ballymena Fifths in Limavady.
What a difference 12 months can make!
Since taking the Judges Road reins last year, Derry Head Coach Paul O'Kane hasn't been wrong about much but there was one mistake. He said Derry's survival fight would go to the last day of the season but thanks to this remarkable 80 odd minutes, next week's trip to Tullamore will only be about finishing as high up the table as possible and every player deserves immense credit.
Saturday's five point haul against promotion chasing Bruff, coupled with Thomond's defeat of Bangor and Ballina's victory over Tullamore, means neither Thomond nor Bangor can catch O'Kane's men. So while the relegation battle will go to the last day, Derry won't be involved!
It was a fairytale end to the perfect day for the club, encapsulated by the bonus point try from young scrum-half Rory MacGinty two minutes from time. No-one saw him coming!
With Derry one point ahead thanks to two Thomas Cole tries and one from Davy Ferguson, they scene was set for Bruff to turn the screw as they bulldozed 10 metres into the Derry half. Or so most spectators thought until from nowhere, the young Donegal man appeared at pace to intercept a pass that was barely even loose. And such was the pace that MacGinty hit his line at that he had covered half the pitch and dotted down under the posts before Bruff even know they had lost possession.
The crowd's reaction said everything. They knew what it meant, the players knew what it meant and Bruff knew what it meant.
The victory was little more than Derry deserved. To a player, every man played their part. It wasn't perfect but any mistakes were more than adequately camouflaged by a performance full of heart and desire. There wasn't a bad performance.
Indeed, the manner in which this young Derry team controlled more than five minutes of injury time after MacGinty's try suggests the squad is maturing after a season which has asked plenty of questions.
Bruff arrived in Derry with title ambitions of their own and everything Derry got they had to earn against a physically intimidating Munster side.
But Derry were at it from the start. Only a brilliant tap tackle stopped David Lapsley scoring in the opening seconds and six minutes later a patient build up saw Thomas Cole the extra man on the outside and he rode one tackle to finish in style with Alex McDonnell converting.
Bruff were shocked but they haven't won 11 games this year by caving in and by the 22nd minute they were 14 -7 up thanks to tries from Davy O'Grady and Liam Teacey.
Every time either side got inside the opposition '22' they looked dangerous and thankfully Derry weathered the Bruff storm to hit back 10 minute before half-time as Davy Graham breathtaking pace off a standing start set up Ferguson to score a crucial try as the side turned around at 12-14.
The second half started with a yellow card for graham following a high tackle and Bruff extracted the full punishment as Jack O'Grady score in the space that Graham had vacated for a 12-19 lead on 49 minutes.
But that would be Bruff's last score.
With their AIL future in the balance, Derry found the mental reserves to go again. A 62nd minute yellow card for Bruff's Cian Clifford for a deliberate knock-on helped the cause. McDonnell tapped over a straight forward penalty to reduce the deficit to 15-19.
With 10 minutes to go, the rest appeared to have done Davy Graham good and the electric paced winger flew down the right to instigate a move which would eventually end on the other side of the pitch with Simon Logue send Cole away for his second try of the day.
A tricky conversion was missed and only a superb tackle from Logue and Cole denied Treacy when he looked to be clear, the pressure forcing the Bruff man to knock on.
The Judges Road crowd held it's breath with the one point lead. They needn't have worried. MacGinty's moment was just around the corner and, like this Derry display, it was worth waiting for!
City of Derry: Jimmy Hamilton, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Gerard Doherty, Stephen Corr, Chris Huey, Chris Lamberton, Rory MacGinty, Alex McDonnell, Thomas Cole, Keelan Coyle, David Lapsley, David Graham, Simon Logue.
(Replacements) Ross Harkin, Barry Laverty, Tiernan Thornton, Dennis Posternak, James Perry.
Bruff RFC: Paddy Cleary, Rob Coates, Keith Laffen, Tom O'Dwyer, Neilus Keogh, Johnny Cleary, Sean Hartigan, Mike Cooke, Danny Jackson, Davy O'Grady, Liam Treacy, Cian Treacy, Jack O'Grady, Graham Whelan, Kevin McManus.
(Brendan Keogh, Tadgh O'Dwyer, Taylor Jones, Sean Darcy, Cian Clifford)
Referee: Mike Scanlon