City Of Derry RFC Notes: I XV 12 v Ballymena RFC I XV 19

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The expectation from any Cup Semi Final would be a pulsating game that had everything to excite the players and supporters that included drama, superb passages of play and individual brilliance with the result in doubt right to the final minutes. The First Trust Ulster Senior Cup S/Final at Eaton Park on Saturday last between Ballymena and City of Derry RFC was bereft on any real quality that would have given the players some satisfaction for their efforts in a stop start game that was completely dominated by one red card and four yellows cards.
Derry started with some intent on a dry cold day which was ideal for rugby. Bob McKillop making his first start for some time was at the forefront of many strong plays that took play into the Ballymena 22. The Derry scrum was dominant with Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan and Gareth Beattie having the upper hand ably supported by McKillop and Brian Prue. McKillop setup Chris Cooper on seven minutes to almost get to the Ballymena line but was stopped short. The first setback for the Judges Road men came on twelve minutes when Beattie got injured when a scrum collapsed and he was replaced by Paul McFeely.
Ballymena got themselves into the Derry half via a couple of penalty decisions at the tackle area following decent play from Johnny Burns, Simon Shaw and Ian Caldwell. Ian Vance was always lively at scrum half for Ballymena and when a Derry player went off side after tackling him 35 meters out on eighteen minutes, out half Martin Irwin converted the penalty to give Ballymena a 3pts to nil lead. The game was becoming littered with penalties and injury stoppages and very little continuity. Irwin kicked another penalty after thirty one minutes for off side at the breakdown 30 meters out and Ballymena were in front by 6pts.
The game turned on its head as it entered first half injury time when Chris Cooper Derry’s wing forward was red carded. Stephen Corr went to the sin bin on forty three minutes to leave City of Derry fire fighting with thirteen men. There was very little rugby of any quality being played as injury time dragged on. Ian Vance went to the bin on forty six minutes and when the referee finally blew the half time whistle on fifty minutes it was a relief to players and supporters alike with Ballymena leading by 6pts to nil.
The second half started with a bang, Derry kicked off and some neat handling and interplay from Johnny Burns, Darrell Mulholland, Peter Budina and Tim Small allowed centre Alan Smith get in for an excellently try and with Irwin converting Ballymena led by 13pts to nil. Derry despite reduced numbers showed commitment and courage ably led by Bob McKillop who was always to the forefront as he carried ball supported by Tom Patton, Richard Peoples, Ryan Campbell, Sam McAuley and Chris Barber. It was however Ballymena who increased their lead on twelve minutes when Andrew Warwick, Connor Smith, David Whann and Caldwell made the hard yards before Derry infringed and Irwin kicked an easy penalty to have the Bannsiders leading by 16pts to nil.
Derry came back strongly hoping to convert superiority into points and their luck changed on sixteen minutes when Ballymena had Connor Smith sent to the bin. Derry kicked to the corner Brian Prue won the line out to setup a series of pick and drives as Adam Bratton, Stephen Corr, Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely inched closer the Ballymena line before Tom Patton found the gap to touch down for an unconverted try. Derry were almost in for a try on thirty minutes after Peoples setup scrum half Andrew Semple to break for the line but the referee deemed he knocked on as he touched down for a try.
Derry fought to the end and gave themselves hope with Stephan Jefferson and David Ferguson working hard before giving winger David Graham the opportunity to make an incisive break down the right wing before releasing his hard working full back William McCleery to sprint in and around behind the post for a try which Andrew Semple converted and Derry were right back with thirty two minutes gone in the game at 16pts to 12pts down. Derry tried for that elusive match winning try but Ballymena defended stoutly and increased their lead on forty minutes when Irwin kicked a penalty for a 19pts to 12pts lead. The game was up for Derry when Chris Barber was sin binned for a late tackle on forty three minutes and Ballymena played out injury time to progress to this years Ulster Senior Cup Final.
City of Derry Team V Terenure; Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan, Gareth Beattie, Bob McKillop Brian Prue, Adam Bratton, Tom Patton, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard Peoples, Adam Bratton, Ryan Campbell, Chris Barber, David Graham, William McCleery, Replacements; Sam McAuley, Paul McFeely, Steven Jefferson, David Ferguson..

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