City of Derry 7, Dungannon 9
City of Derry’s AIL Division Two title hopes suffered a blow as Dungannon eased their own relegation worries with a surprise, but fully deserved victory over the league leaders at Judges Road on Saturday.
Three first half Paul Armstrong penalties proved decisive for the visitors who move up to seventh in the table with Derry’s woes eased slightly by news of defeat for Highfield though Sunday’s Wells are now in second spot, 11 points behind Terry McMaster’s side with a game in hand.
Dungannon arrived at Judges Road second from bottom but elected to make first use of an almost gale force wind and spent most of the opening half inside the Derry half. With driving rain accompanying the high winds, handling conditions were difficult both both sets of player but Dungannon adapted better than their hosts and made fewer mistakes than Derry who badly missed Adam Bratton and Andy Semple.
Armstrong got his side off and running with a 13th minute penalty after Ali Beckett had been penalised for not releasing but there was a degree of controversy to it as Armstrong’s kick looked to have went high over the top of left hand post but the touch judges flagged and and the score was given
A second Armstrong penalty increased the visitors lead on 20 minutes but Derry would have been happy enough with the prospect of the wind behind them for the second half. Indeed, they were more than happy when that 6-0 deficit became a 7-6 lead thanks to the quick thinking of Simon Logue who was deputising for Semple at No. 9.
The gale was playing havoc with any attempts to play an expansive game and when Dungannon fumbled as they attempted to move the ball left inside their own half, Derry won a penalty. As the visitors regrouped, Logue quick-tapped the penalty and danced through the defence to score before Dungannon knew what had happened. Neil Burns added the extras with a sublime kick against the wind and suddenly Derry led 7-6 after their first real attack.
Three minutes before the break however, good work by Gerard Treanor saw Dungannon win another penalty and, once again, Armstrong - who was excellent all afternoon - sent his kick over the ensure a 9-7 interval lead.
Derry started the second half anxious to redress the balance and forced a number of scrums on the Dungannon line which brought the possibility of a penalty try being awarded but the visitors, with substitute prop Philip Fletcher superb, cleared their lines. And Fletcher wasn’t alone. The Dungannon pack put in a huge 80 minutes and provided the platform on which the victory was built.
If anything the wind changed second half from being at the Derry backs to swirling around the pitch and it made kicking even more hazardous. Burns had a penalty on 47 minutes but sent a difficult kick wide before going agonisingly close on 62 minutes when his long range effort struck the outside of the post and dropped wide again.
Derry were enjoying much of the territorial advantage but never looked like scoring, largely due to a Dungannon defensive effort which was superb.
The tide looked to be turning though when visiting prop Steven Sinnamon was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Derry substitute Richard McCarter. The decision gave Derry what appeared a straight forward penalty in front of the posts but incredibly the league leaders passed up potential points to kick for the corner.
It was a decision they would come to regret as Dungannon repelled everything thrown at them.
As the clock ticked away, Derry’s attacks became more desperate but seldom did they look like breaching the Dungannon line. So it was left to the boot of Burns once again. First, on 79 minutes, he was presented with another long range penalty but again the swirling wind saw the ball drift right and wide. Two minutes into injury time, Derry won another long range penalty but the scenario was the same, decent kick caught by the breeze and blown off course as Dungannon held on for an impressive victory.
A tale of more than two penalties then, Derry unfortunate with the first Dungannon score which could easily have be given wide but Andy Hughes’ team earned their good fortune with a performance which belied their lowly position in the table.
With no AIL game for two weeks, Terry McMaster has time to regroup for a trip to Armagh in two weeks which provides an opportunity to ensure two successive AIL defeats have not blown Derry’s title bid off course entirely.
City of Derry: Rory Squires, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, David Houston, Chris Cooper, Steven Dickey, John Burns, Stephen Corr, Simon Logue, Neil Burns, Neil Brown, Stuart Simpson, David Funston, David Graham, Ali Beckett. (Replacements)
Dungannon: Steven Sinnamon, Jamie McNeil, Glen Sinnamon, Stephen Todd, Ross McGaughey, David Leyburn, Mark Ridell, James McMahon, Gerard Treanor, Jake Finlay, John Toal, Mark Faloon, Seamus Mallon, Matthew Montgomery, Paul Armstrong.
Referee: Richard Kerr (IRFU)