Disappointment at Derry
By Roger Corbett
A single defensive error proved costly as City of Derry picked up a vital home win by 10-5, pushing Bangor yet another place down the league table.
With Bangor sitting just one point ahead of Derry before today's game, and both sides perilously close to the wrong end of the league, the significance of this fixture could not be underestimated. Bangor's tough game last weekend had resulted in several injuries to key personnel with Phil Whyte, Jamie Clegg, Adam Alexander and Gareth Millar all missing from the team. However, with strong replacements and the knowledge that they had beaten Derry earlier in the season, Bangor took to the field of play with a degree of confidence that this fixture would see an end to their recent poor run of results. Thankfully, the morning's dreadful weather conditions seemed to have passed, leaving just a strong breeze blowing directly down the pitch. Having won the toss, Derry elected to take this advantage in the first half in the knowledge that it could be less significant in the second.
As Bangor kicked off, early signs were good in that their plan to play a more expansive game seemed to be working well and, as usual, their set pieces in the scrums and line-outs were exemplary. However, as Bangor have found to their cost on several earlier occasions, their opponents can quickly turn defence into attack via a well-placed and wind-assisted kick to touch. Having taken Bangor back into their own twenty two, the Derry pack harried the Bangor line-out sufficiently to win a scrum close to the Bangor line. Although the Bangor pack once again pushed their opposite numbers back and up, the Derry scrum half just managed to rescue the ball before the scrum collapsed. As they played the ball across their backs, Derry then capitalised on a defensive error that saw the Bangor players looking like statues while second row forward Conor McMenamin drifted through untouched to score a simple try close to Bangor's left hand upright. With kicker Alex McDonnell adding the simple conversion, the home side were ahead by 7-0 after 12 minutes of play.
From the restart, Bangor upped their pressure on Derry, winning back possession after some determined rucking. The forwards brought play into the Derry twenty two, and began mounting their attack on the goal line. Their efforts got close, but after several unsuccessful surges, they spun the ball wide to Davy Charles on the left wing who darted down the touchline to score in the corner. Liam Preston's conversion attempt was on target, but was just held short by the gusting wind. However, with 16 minutes now gone, Bangor were right back in it at 7-5.
Unfortunately, another Bangor mistake not long after the restart gave Derry a kickable penalty which McDonnell duly converted to undo some of Bangor's earlier good work, and take the score to 10-5. The remainder of the second quarter was a fairly even affair with play mostly taking place in the middle of the pitch, and neither side being able to develop any meaningful attacking opportunities. With no further scores until half time, the feeling was that Bangor were well within striking range as they now had the wind, albeit somewhat lighter than before, at their backs.
Within a few minutes of Derry's start to the second half, Bangor were awarded a penalty. The hope was that a good kick would lead to a strong attacking position deep inside Derry's twenty two. However, Bangor's ongoing issues with their poor use of the wind continued as the kick didn't make touch and Derry returned the ball to almost where Bangor had been originally. Although still with the possession, Bangor had squandered a good attacking opportunity. Another scrum soon afterwards yielded another penalty for Bangor. David Bradford took a quick tap and go, but was immediately stopped resulting in another penalty and a yellow card for the offending Derry player. This time Preston lined up the kick, but his effort was pushed wide, keeping the scores at 10-5.
As Bangor's efforts continued to come to nothing, there was a growing sense of frustration that while Derry weren't putting much together in attack, they would be able to feed off Bangor's worryingly growing penalty count, and contain the game to their advantage in that way. They actually had a chance to add another three points to their tally when awarded a penalty in what looked like a kickable position but O'Donnell's effort was pushed off course by the wind.
Bangor's best chance of snatching victory came deep in the final quarter when a concerted push saw them camped on the Derry line. However, an untidy tackle for which they were penalised undid all their hard work, and the chance was gone. As the game then entered its final minutes, Derry knew that they just needed to keep hold of the ball, and force Bangor to make mistakes. It wasn't pretty, but it proved effective as Bangor conceded more penalties in their efforts to regain possession. In the end, the final whistle was a relief for everybody as Derry could celebrate and Bangor could lick their wounds.
Bangor's pain continues, but Derry have grabbed a lifeline that might just secure their future in the league. With a break next weekend, Bangor will have time to appreciate their position and consider how they will approach their final three games. Starting with a home fixture against second placed Midleton, it certainly isn't going to get any easier for Bangor and, with Derry travelling to a resurgent Seapoint it is quite possible the landscape at the foot of the table will change yet again. On a more positive note, it was encouraging to see so many Bangor supporters making the journey to Derry. Hopefully they will continue to come out in force to try and lift the players in their efforts to salvage this final phase of this difficult season.