City of Derry Rugby made history on Easter Monday when they won Towns Cup at Ravenhill, bridging a void that spanned 73 years to the day when Derry last brought the blue ribbon of Ulster junior rugby back to the Maiden City.
City of Derry defeated Ballynahinch in the most dramatic fashion imaginable at Ravenhill, securing a 14-10 win in an end-to-end Provincial Towns Cup final.
The Judge’s Road men had squandered a number of chances and were two minutes from injury-time and a point in arrears with the game slipping from their grasp, when a hero stepped up for them.
Colin Mitchell picked the ball from the base of a five-metre scrum and crashed over the line to score the winning try.
It was April 13 and on the same day in 1936 (Easter Monday) at Ravenhill when City of Derry last won the Towns Cup, defeating Dromore 10-3.
The other remarkable coincidence was that Norman McClure, the grand uncle of the current President of City of Derry Alan McClure, played for Derry on that day 73 years ago.
Derry, having come off a hard game against Monivea in the All-Ireland Round Robin series, were underdogs going into this cup decider.
Following a bright start, Derry found themselves behind courtesy of a a Ballynahinch penalty from out-half James McBriar.
Bevan Lynch’s side responded well and within two minutes the Derry pack were going through the phases, controlling the ball with the front row of Jason Mitchell, Sam Duffy and David Witherow to the fore. Ballynahinch killed the ball and Mark O’Connor obliged with a Derry penalty.
Derry were beginning to control the game and Philip Brady, Chris Cooper and captain Davy Houston were winning clean lineout ball as well as showing well in the loose.
O’Connor converted a second penalty and as they continued to press, it seemed only a matter of time before Derry produced an elusive try but disaster struck on 27 minutes when David Funston got injured and was eventually replaced by Ryan Brace.
Derry had cut through the ‘Hinch defence with a score on, Funston was still down injured and a stray pass allowed the Ballynahinch winger Niall McBriar to run 80 metres to score a try under the posts which James McBriar converted, leaving the Down men 10-6 ahead for half-time.
The second half saw the tension mount and the game became very scrappy. Derry had territorial advantage but failed to convert three penalty opportunities.
Under pressure, ‘Hinch had two players sin-binned in quick succession. After the second yellow carding, O’Connor kicked the resulting penalty for a 10-9 scoreline.
Derry could not make their numerical advantage count and ‘Hinch were unfortunate to miss a subsequent penalty attempt.
Time was slipping away yet Derry got what proved to be the all-important scrum with time running out.
With a last throw of the dice, they produced a powerful scrum to set the platform for number 8 Mitchell to explode to the line for a score reminiscent of the late, great Ken Goodall.
The celebrations after the game were euphoric but the serious business of regaining AIB League status is now the priority for the Derrymen.
Head coach Bevan Lynch said: “Ballynahinch were a good organised team and fought for everything, especially on the ground, at an intensity that we were not used to.
“We had to dig deep to compete and credit to our boys who had come off a hard game against Monivea on Saturday, while Ballynahinch had a free weekend and came to the game fresh.
“We’ll park our celebrations for another day and go home and rest up and prepare for the massive challenges ahead with confidence.”