City of Derry 41, Ballymoney 27
First game maths: Six tries + five points = one impressive start!
City of Derry got the Ulster Championship One start they craved against Ballymoney on Saturday as Richard McCarter's men proved they can be a real force in the division this season.
For an hour Derry produced some pleasing to the eye running rugby that eventually opened up a Ballymoney side who more than played their part in a decent spectacle. That the Antrim side's efforts weren't enough was down to Derry's ability to move the ball quickly though the hands and along a back line that will cause teams bother all season if they get this service from their pack.
With Simon Logue and Davy Graham forming probably the most formidable centre partnership you're likely to see in the division, Derry had pace and guile in the backs with the return of Stephen Corr and Gerard Doherty giving the pack power and experience.
It was a clash of styles, Derry's preference for open expansive rugby in marked contrast to a Ballymoney side whose strengths were based on the hammer rather than the scalpel. Both had merit but the fine weather and dry pitch suited the home side who produced some fantastic rugby bookended by two fine periods of play from the visitors.
And that was probably the only criticism you could offer on Derry's display. Having hit their sixth try with a wonderful Ross McLaughlin effort on 58 minutes, it looked like the 'Green and Black' would run riot and let the handbrake off completely. Instead the final 15 minutes belonged to Ballymoney who grabbed two late tries to ensure a try scoring bonus point of their own.
It never threatened Derry's victory, but the tendency to relax when in front is a habit McCarter will hope doesn't catch on because, as Ballymoney showed, teams will punish you.
That small gripe aside, this was vintage stuff and built nicely on Derry's Junior Cup victory at Banbridge the week before to make it two impressive victories from two.
Derry got the perfect start with a try inside two minutes when Alex McDonnell's kick took Derry inside the visitors' '22. From there possession was secured and Simon Logue off loaded to the supporting Dara Gill to crash over. McDonnell converted and Derry were off.
But any thoughts of a stroll in the September sun evaporated 10 minutes later when big 'Money second row Marcel Ngyutin was pushed over for the equalising score which Aaron Brown converted.
The side traded penalties but Derry put themselves in the box seat with two tries in five minutes to lead 20-10 at half-time.
The first saw play switched left where the impressive Ross McLaughlin joined the line to dance past three tackles and score. Next a high tackle on Ian Bratton allowed Derry to gain another decent field position. Ballymoney won the ball back but kicked it away and Derry didn't need asking twice, Colm Cregan the man who eventually released Gary McKinley to force his way over for a crucial score.
A yellow card following a deliberate knock-on by Ballymoney winger Robbie McNeill two minutes after half-time handed Derry a numerical advantage they immediately utilised when McDonnell's beautiful grubber kick allowed Simon Logue to run though and score by the posts for 27-10.
Ballymoney were not lying down though as substitute Jordan Munnis forced his way over but it was only a temporary respite for the Antrim men.
And four minutes after Munnis' had offered his side hope at 27-15, another brilliant try for the home side took it away. Again McLaughlin was key, attracting tackles before finding Jamie Millar on the supporting loop to run around the corner and score an excellent team try.
That was good but even better was to follow with the score of the day. It started yards from Derry's own line and with a Ballymoney line-out the visitors lost. Where other sides may have kicked clear, Colm Cregan set off at pace, drawing in the cover and feeding Davy Graham. Graham hit the afterburners to take play into the visitors’ half. As the cover closed, it was Logue's turn to highlight his pace and trickery. For once the mercurial Logue looked to have over run it but we should have known better. It was popped off to Stephen Corr who handed off to McLaughlin and the full-back was in for one of the best tries scored at Judges Road for years.
At 41-15 the game was done but Ballymoney used the final 20 odd minutes to illustrate how dangerous a side they could be this year with bonus point securing tries from Scott Gamble and Curtis Pollock.
But they were never more than a consolation. This was Derry's day and if they can keep everyone fit and producing this level on a regular basis, we could be in for an exciting season!
City of Derry: Fearghus Canning, Catahl Cregan, Sam Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Gary McKinley, Tiernan Thornton, Dara Gill, Stephen Corr, Jamie Millar, Alex McDonnell, Colm Cregan, Simon Logue, David Graham, Ian Bratton, Ross McLaughlin. (Replacements) Adam Marley, To Cameron, Alan Mason.
Ballymoney: Matthew Blair, Philip Beattie, Scott Gamble, Daniel Ramage, Marcel Ngyutin, James Bleakley, Curtis Pollock, Will Scott, Matthew Pollock, Tom Curry, Jonny McMullan, Chris Watson, Aaron Brown, Robbie McNeill, Matthew Steele. (Replacements) Jordan Munnis, Andrew Stevenson, Aaron Gervais.
Referee: Matthew Wallace