RONAN Boyce's sublime second half strike against Cork City at Turner's Cross ensured Derry City will play European football for a third successive season.
The Ramleton man returned to the starting line-up and made the difference with a terrific goal on 73 minutes as he curled a 25 yard strike into the top corner - his second goal of the season, both coming against Cork on Leeside!
Derry didn't get going until the second half and Cork twice had the ball in the back of the net but Ruairi Keating's first half strike was ruled out for offside while Coffey's effort was also disallowed for a foul in the build-up.
Michael Duffy struck the foot of the post with a magnificent volley as Derry raced out of the traps in the second half and they withstood a late barrage of attacks from Cork in injury time but emerged deserving winners in the end to cement that European spot and move into second spot above St Patrick’s Athletic on goal difference as Cork look destined for the relegation play-off.
Ruaidhri Higgins made three changes from the team held scoreless at home to Shelbourne last week with Boyce, Mark Connolly and Brandon Kavanagh coming in for Shane McEleney, Danny Mullen and the suspended Sadou Diallo.
It was a welcome return to action for centre half Connolly who made his first appearance since coming off injured against Bohemians at Dalymount on August 25th. There was also a return to the squad for Evan McLaughlin for the first time since April.
Derry started the game with no recognised striker but opted for an attack-minded 4-3-3 formation with Duffy furthest forward, flanked by Paul McMullan and Brandon Kavanagh with Cameron Dummigan slotting into a more familiar defensive midfield role alongside Cork native Adam O'Reilly.
Cork were the first to threaten as Ben Worman's strike from 25 yards was charged down by Connolly and deflected narrowly wide of Maher's right hand post for a corner kick on 12 minutes.
It was a scrappy opening, not helped by the condition of the pitch on Leeside which was cutting up badly due to the incessant rain but Derry were gifted a promising chance when Ben Doherty was brought crashing down on the edge of the penalty area on 28 minutes and referee Damien McGraith awarded a free-kick for the visitors.
Patching fired his set-piece cleverly over the defensive wall but Tiernan Brooks did well to get across his line and palm the ball clear at the near post.
Moments later Cork broke and Worman's deflected shot was chested down by Barry Coffey who got in front of Boyce before firing dangerously into the six yard box where McJannet made a crucial interception.
Cork had the ball in the back of the net on 34 minutes and it was that man Keating who slotted clinically into the corner of the net from 12 yards after a cutback by Cian Bargary but the referee assistant raised her flag for offside in the build-up.
Cork had the ball in the back of the net once again on the stroke of half-time when Coffey bundled it over the line at the back post from Aaron Bolger's cross but Keating was adjudged to have fouled McJannet as the cross came in and the goal was correctly ruled out.
The teams went in level at the break but Cork would have been the happiest of the two as Derry failed to trouble Brooks other than Patching's early free-kick.
Derry began the second half with real intensity and almost took the lead in spectacular fashion when McMullan found the run of Duffy with a lovely ball over the top and the winger got beyond Kevin Custovic before his stunning left-footed volley struck the foot of the post.
The rebound fell to O'Reilly but he couldn't sort his feet out quick enough and send it safely into the hands of the Cork custodian.
O'Reilly got himself into a great position to make amends moments later but his strike which looked destined for the far corner was parried clear at full stretch by Brooks.
It was always going to take a piece of magic or a mistake to break the deadlock and it was the former as Boyce played a one-two with Dummigan before curling a sublime strike into the far corner from 25 yards to give Derry the lead on 73 minutes.
Cork went with three up top as Tunde Owolabi replaced captain Cian Coleman in a last throw of the dice by the Rebels with seven minutes remaining as Derry sat deeper.
However, it was Derry who created a gilt-edged chance to double the Candy Stripes' lead on 87 minutes when Dummigan broke up the play and found the run of substitute Danny Mullen who got in beyond the last man but fired the wrong side of the far post.
With just four minutes signalled by the fourth official Cork had two big chances in the 96th minute with Olawabi's shot blocked by Boyce before Maher tipped over the striker's close range header from a corner kick.
However, that Boyce strike was worthy of the win as Derry saw out the game to clinch victory and their place in Europe next year. They occupy second spot on goal difference over St Pat’s who they host at Brandywell on the final day the season after the Saints lost 2-0 to Shamrock Rovers at Richmond Park on a night the Hoops clinched a fourth successive league title.
Cork City: Brooks; Coleman (Owolabi 83), Custovic (Walker 69), Hakkinen, Bolger; Bargary (Kabia 70), Honohan, Kravchuk, Worman (Murphy 69); Coffey (Dijksteel 60); Keating; Subs Not Used - Moynihan, Crowe, O'Donovan, Fitzpatrick.
Derry City: Maher: Boyce, Connolly, McJannet, Doherty; O'Reilly (Mullen 72), Dummigan, Patching; McMullan (P. McEleney 72), B. Kavanagh (McEneff 72), Duffy (Coll 92): Subs Not Used - Ryan, McGonigle, S. McEleney, Todd, McLaughlin.
Referee: Damien McGraith