City of Derry’s AIL Division 2B renaissance continued at Stevenson Park on Saturday when they edged out profligate Dungannon 18-17 to secure their third successive league win.
As in the reverse fixture in December at Judge’s Road only one point separated these provincial rivals, but there was a surreal feeling at the final whistle of this latest instalment as ‘Gannon’ missed a late match winning penalty.
Dominating possession and territory ‘Gannon’ looked the more likely winners, but a herculean defensive display by the visitors allied to wrong decision making, poor handling and multiple unforced errors from ‘Gannon’ allowed Terry McMaster’s side to stay in touch until Neil Burns supplied a match winning drop goal two minutes from time.
‘Gannon’ pressure yielded points on nine minutes when Tianua Poto curled over a long range penalty after Derry had strayed offside, but in the main, their build up was slow and rather predictable.
Derry were content to absorb the pressure and, in their first meaningful attack they struck for the opening try on 18 minutes. Stephen Corr carried forward with intent and released Burns, who fired possession out right to centre David Graham to outpace the covering defence before dotting down in the corner. Burns screwed the conversion wide.
The duration of the half was all about ‘Gannon’ dominance and superb Derry defending. Poto and Graham exchanged crunching tackles as the intensity rose before Jake Finlay went close to scoring. Mallon knocked on following another patient attack and Gannon’s fortunes were highlighted on 38 minutes, when Poto charged for the line. Instead of going for the score himself, he attempted to feed McMahon but the ball went forward and another opportunity had gone.
‘Gannon’ made the breakthrough on the cusp of half-time when Poto and McMahon combined to send replacement prop Rodney Bennet in for an unconverted try in the corner. At half-time Dungannon led 8-5.
Poto and Burns traded penalties within five minutes of the restart, but the game followed a similar pattern as a series of poor options unhinged Gannon’s enterprise.
Poto goaled another penalty on 54 minutes for a 14-8 lead, but Derry’s defence continued to battle. On 68 minutes Burns drilled a penalty down the line and when Derry won the line out they went through the phases until Burns fed Graham. Graham then burst through the gap for his second try and, with Burns nailing the conversion the visitors led 15-14.
Within a minute ‘Gannon’ had regained the lead as Poto kicked a penalty when Derry were penalised for not rolling away. The tension was palpable as Burns saw a penalty coming back off the uprights, but on 78 minutes he moved into the pocket, collected possession and kicked a decisive match winning drop goal.
‘Gannon’ responded but Poto inexplicably missed the simple kick at the posts and even though Derry lost Gerard Doherty to the bin, the visitors held on for a dramatic and at times unlikely win.
Dungannon – G. Sinnamon, D. Maxwell, S.O’Hagan, S. Todd, P. Doran, D. Leyburn, M. Riddell, J. McMahon, J. Ravey, T. Poto, J. Toal, M. Montgomery, S. Mallon, P.r Cashel, J. Finlay. Replacements – R. Bennett, J. Black, J. Kane, J. Bates, J.Buckley.
City of Derry – R.Harkin, C. Creggan, S. Duffy, G. Doherty, A. Bratton, J. Dunleavy, C.Huey, Stephen Corr, J. Bloomfield, N.Burns, T. Thornton, R.Baird, D. Graham, W. McCleery, J.Beattie. Replacements – E. Ferry, P. Meenan, C. Lamberton, S. Simpson, M. Kilgore.
Referee – Tommy O’Donoghue, IRFU .