First Trust Senior Cup Quarter Final. Belfast Harlequins v City Of Derry, Deramore Park, Thurs 23.10.14. By George Millar

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The magic of the Ulster Senior Cup still has a place in the hearts of our AIL clubs in Ulster. Having watched the Armagh v Ballynahinch the previous night in front of a passionate crowd. It was time to visit Deramore Park and see how Belfast’s newest identity – Belfast Harlequins fared against those battle hardened players and supporters from the North West of the province representing City of Derry. The rain had moved on to leave a perfect playing surface for the thirty players who had dreams to step out on to Kingspan stadium for the final in December. Despite supporters having to wait until the fortieth minute for the first points. It was the Foyle side who deservedly scored a try through their talented fullback Peter Henderson who glided through the Quins cover, with out half Andrew Semple adding the conversion to give his side a 7 – 0 halftime lead. Both these well organised and talented teams had cancelled each other out during an exciting first half of rugby. Derry made their intentions clear in the second half as they laid siege to the Quins line, only for the home side to resist their efforts. No where was the contest more physical than the collisions between the opposing centres Mark Best and Adam Bratton. With Quins exerting pressure in the Derry twenty two it was no surprise when their outstanding number 8 Stephen Ferguson emerged with the ball to gallop towards the Quins twenty two. The ball was recycled with out half Andrew Semple scoring the all important second unconverted try in the corner to give his side a 12 – 0 lead. Quins coach Adam Larkin introduced his bench of Angelo Marica, Josh Davidson, Kenny McCombe and Josh Fullerton. Still the North West side held firm against a hard working Quins side. Once again as Derry had done so well on the night they broke up a strong Quins attack in their own half to switch play into the Quins twenty two. Good recycled ball was swiftly moved left for winger William McCleery to score his teams third try. Semple was unable to add the difficult conversion to leave Derry 17 – 0 in front with 15 minutes left to play. Quins laid siege to the Derry twenty two after being awarded several penalties. Their efforts were rewarded when prop Marica burst through for a well taken try with out half Eamon Lane adding the points to reduce the deficit ti 17 – 7. Derry coach Mark Nicholl cleared his bench as his team dug in to resist the best efforts of a Quins team who never stopped working. Despite a late sin binning of Derry number 8 Stephen Ferguson, the North West side held out for a well deserved 17 – 7 win. Excellent cup tie with both teams totally committed from start to finish of this pulsating cup match. Several of the Derry supporters were saying number 8 Stephen Ferguson was their man of the match. In truth everyone of the Derry players put in a great shift. None more so than their 30/40 !!!! whatever age he is evergreen second row Bob McKillop who played the full 80 minutes. His experience was invaluable to this Derry team particularly in the latter stages. You could see what this win meant to the Derry players and their large travelling support at the final whistle much like the Ballynahinch team the previous night. Developing a strong Community ethos is crucial for Ulster rugby clubs and Quins have much work to do in this area to build a supporter base. Charging supporters £5 at the gate with no programmes available leaves room for improvement. Witness the colour programmes available at Armagh. The first two quarter finals have lived up to all expectations. Now it is the turn of Rainey who entertain Malone on their new 3G pitch in Magherfelt tonight and Cup favourites Ballymena who welcome Banbridge to Eaton Park. Both games kick off at 7.30pm. AIL clubs in Ulster have a role in the developing future Ulster players and several of the Ulster under 20 and Academy players who turned out last night for Quins will realise reputations don’t count when it comes to playing Adult rugby with the top amateur club players !!! Should age be used to determine whether a player has the potential to play professional rugby!! It is never to late. Witness the disappointing performances by the Ulster Ravens in the British & Irish Cup.

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