City of Derry Rugby Club lost their undefeated record in all competitions this season when they were narrowly defeated away to Greystones on Saturday in the All Ireland League Division 3.
Derry now slips back to second place in the league table two points behind their northern rivals Instonians. Both Greystones and Derry served up an outstanding game of rugby that will live in the memory of the teams and supporters for ever. The quality of play and the unquestionable commitment from the two squads was only matched by the respect and sportsmanship shown to one another by the two squads and management.
The conditions at Dr Hickey Park were perfect for this epic encounter in front of large travelling City of Derry support. The early skirmishes were to wet the appetite for the awaited feast, the exchanges were fast and furious as the game went from end to end with attack being the intent from each team. Richard Peoples for Derry and Ross Spillane for Greystones exchanged infringement penalties on the 6th and 9th minutes respectively as the pattern and rhythm of the game evolved.
Slideshow of Pictures from the game, thanks to Bernard Doherty, for high resolution e: firstname.lastname@example.org – CLICK HERE –
The cutting edge in the early play came from Derry and suddenly on the ten minute mark the half backs Andrew Semple and Ritchie McMaster found the key to unlock the Greystones defence. Three quick incisive breaks that involved backs and forwards created space for full back Peter Henderson to collect loose ball and find Stephen Corr with a cut out overhead pass to score Derry’s first try from 15 metres out, Peoples added the conversion for a 10pts to 3pts lead. The game looked to be Derry’s for the talking as they were moving through the gears to another level.
The defining moment of the game came as early as the fifteenth minute with play just inside the Derry half, prop Sam Duffy received a red card for one of the most innocuous tackles ever seen. The Greystones winger Aaron Higgs ran with ball in hand at Sam Duffy who tackled front on and lifted the player in a curled position and drove him back, the player went to ground as the ruck developed the referee blew the whistle, he then consulted the linesman who was close to play and the referee sent Sam Duffy off for a supposed spear tackle. The Derry players and supporters were incensed immediately as they know Sam Duffy and the nature of the man. Sam Duffy is a quiet, modest, unassuming gentle person without a malicious pore in his body, he was just doing his job on the pitch with respect for the game.
The sending off at that time in the modern game spells only one thing but defeat for the fourteen men. The Derry team for the next 65 minutes epitomised everything that this squad, coaching staff and club are all about. There was a pride in their play and the jersey that was matched by the heroic super human effort from every player that until the last whistle meant the result was in doubt as bodies heaved over the line to touch down for what should have been a winning try only for the referee to be on the blind side and not allow the score.
Following the sending off, Bob McKillop went to tight head prop and Stephen Ferguson went to second row in a pack reshuffle. The Derry pack went to work with David Witherow, Captain Sam McAuley and Bob McKillop excelling in the tight and loose exchanges. Chris Cooper was ruling the lineout’s supported by Tom Patton and with powerful driving runs from Ferguson and Corr everything looked possible for Derry. Strong running from David Funston and Richard Peoples allowed Jack Caithness to give Sam McAuley a run at the Greystones line on 20 minutes only to be pulled down with a last ditch tackle five metres out. Derry were on the rampage again two minutes later and when Greystones were penalised 15 metres out in front of the posts, Derry ran a quick penalty but Greystones turned over possession and cleared their lines.
Greystones got back into the Derry half and their winger Ronan Carroll who was their best player and always looked dangerous when in possession. Carroll scored a well worked try after 25 minutes, Ross Spillane converted to level the scores at 10pts all. The game was going from end to end with great attack and defence for both teams. The only remaining chance of the half went to Peoples on 28 minutes when he unluckily hit the posts with a penalty from 40 metres out, the teams turned round at the break level.
The second half start was a replica of the first when Ross Spillane for Greystones and Richard Peoples for Derry exchanged infringement penalties on the 5th and 10th minutes. The intensity was stepped up several notches as the game wore on and with Derry on all out attack Greystones winger Aaron Higgs was sin binned on 20 minutes. Derry kicked for touch and from the resulting lineout a mighty catch from Cooper resulted in a powerful drive by the pack that had Richard Baird who had come on for Tom Patton touching down for a well deserved unconverted try and the lead, 18pts to 13pts for Derry.
This was some game now with good flowing movement from both sides, Greystones had posession break down after 29 minutes on the half way line following a strong tackle from Simon Logue and when Ritchie McMaster kicked forward in a foot rush for the line everyone thought he had touched down for a try but the referee and linesmen who were well behind play and ruled no score.
Time was ticking away and Derry’s five point lead looked secure but home team threw everything into attack against a tired Derry outfit. A flowing concerted movement with eight phases of play on 37 minutes saw that man Ronan Carroll get in for a try after Derry ran out of bodies and Spillane converted to give Greystones a two point lead with minutes remaining. Derry came back and Peoples missed a difficult penalty on 39 minutes from 45 metres. Ross Spillane converted a penalty for Greystones a minute later from the same distance out to give his team a five point lead.
Like the dying wasp there was always going to be one more sting in the Derry tail and there was deep in injury time as Derry cranked up the pressure amid tired and sore bodies. This team don’t know how to loose or when they are beaten, with the engine running on fresh air who needs fuel when pride comes from big hearts. Derry got a penalty, the referee said there was time for a lineout, Cooper soared and brought the ball down 10 metres out, the pack drove to the line giving everything, the backs joined in, it was a 12 man maul, Funston touched down over the line with no Greystones player in his way, the referee was on wrong side with no try allowed there was a five metre scrum, Derry were run into touch and the game was over.
The two teams will take many positive from this game but Greystones supporters afterwards were loud in their praise of this Derry team. They knew if they were playing against a full Derry team the result would have been different. The Greystones Coach Reggie Corrigan said after the game “the sending of prop Sam Duffy was what changed the game. I saw no malice or intent in the tackle made by the Derry prop, he was just unlucky the way our player fell to the ground”.
City of Derry Team: : David Witherow, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, Chris Cooper, Stephen Corr, Tom Patton, Stephen Ferguson, Andrew Semple, Ritchie McMaster, Simon Logue Richard Peoples, David Funston, Jack Caithness, Peter Henderson. Replacements: Stephen Duffy, Chris Shields, Richard Baird, Nic Donnell, Philip Duffy.