City of Derry have clinched a place in AIB League Division 3 for next season, with out-half Richard McCarter driving them to a 26-22 win over Portadown in Saturday’s AIB League promotion/relegation play-off at Chambers Park.
AIB LEAGUE PROMOTION/RELEGATION PLAY-OFF: Saturday, April 24
PORTADOWN 22 CITY OF DERRY 26, Chambers Park
Scorers: Portadown: Tris: Steve Morton, Dave Whitten, Sonny Gaye; Cons: Craig Woods 2; Drop: Colin Lawson
City of Derry: Tries: Simon Logue, Richard McCarter 2; Con: Niall O’Connor; Pens: Richard McCarter 2, Mark O’Connor
City of Derry completed a season of great progress as they beat Ulster rivals Portadown to secure the 16th and final place in AIB League Division 3 for next season.
Bevan Lynch’s side have enjoyed a hugely impressive campaign, from winning the AIB Junior Cup for the first time through to being crowned Ulster Kukri Qualifying League Section 1 winners and now regaining the club’s senior status.
Relegated from the AIB League in 2008, Derry booked their return ticket with a gutsy win over a valiant Portadown outfit.
Richard McCarter, a former AIB Club International player, showed his class by scoring two second half tries. The talented out-half finished with a fine 16-point haul, which was essentially the difference between the sides on the day.
In what was their coach Hika Reid’s final competitive fixture before his move back to New Zealand, Portadown were only 6-5 behind after a hard-fought first half and made a real fight of it with two late tries.
The hosts had tries from Steve Morton, Dave Whitten and Sonny Gaye, with Craig Woods and Colin Lawson kicking seven points between them, but it was not enough as they slipped back into the junior ranks.
Back in 2008, Reid’s men won the AIB League Provincial League Championship and returned to Division 3 and the same feat will be their objection next year.
Portadown will hope to come back stronger next term and if they can keep the majority of the current squad together, they will have a very good chance of challenging for promotion.
Reid said that injuries played ‘a massive role’ in Ports’ struggle for results this season and the momentum built up by Derry in the recent Round Robin series, which including last week’s 55-3 thumping of Richmond, was also a factor.
Ports won two of their last three games in Division 3 but Derry just seemed that little bit hungrier and sharper as the second half wore on, with Simon Logue and McCarter (2) sharing out three tries.
Two penalties from McCarter had Derry 6-0 ahead after 28 minutes, but Portadown were posing plenty of threats, into a slight breeze, and two interceptions could easily have resulted in home tries.
Philip Jackson and Chris Banks helped set up a try-scoring chance for Ports captain Diarmuid O’Kane and while the Derry defence held out on that occasion, from the resulting ruck hooker Morton broke through for an unconverted try, leaving the game tantalisingly poised at 6-5.
A drop goal from Lawson nudged Portadown ahead, early in the second half, but worryingly for Reid’s side, Derry were soon dominating.
The excellent David Funston was thwarted as he tried to break through Portadown’s midfield and a chip and chase effort from McCarter also had the home defence under all sorts of pressure.
Half-backs McCarter and Andrew Semple really up their game and the Derry back row unit of Stephen Corr, Stephen Simms and Karl Gemmell began to wield more influnce.
They transferred that pressure into points when winger Logue got over for an unconverted try in the corner, with 52 minutes on the clock.
Three minutes later, McCarter spotted a gap in the Ports defence and darted through for an unconverted try and a 16-8 lead.
Replacement Mark O’Connor knocked over a well-struck penalty and the game looked over when McCarter chipped ahead, caught the ball over his head and touched down for his second try, which O’Connor converted to make it 26-8.
But Portadown responded superbly and centre Whitten swept through for a try which Craig Woods converted.
Woods added the extras to a late Gaye effort, which was initiated by some neat interplay between the Portadown backs, and suddenly there were just four points between the sides.
Crucially, Derry did not panic and they produced an injury-time turnover and penalty to complete the win and end their two-year absence from the AIB League.