DERRY made it three National League Division Two games without defeat when they were held to a high scoring draw by Paul Grimley’s Armagh before 1.700 spectators at Celtic Park last night.
The Oak Leafers could have won the game with late efforts from the superb James Kielt and Mark Lynch but such was the intensity of a fixture that was more ‘Championship’ than League, that neither side will be too disappointed to take one point from what was a thrilling encounter.
Derry could have conceded two early goals such was the intensity of the Armagh start with Ciaran McKeever already sending one wide before Gavin McParland scored the Orchard County’s first minute opener. The visitors were in complete control as Derry struggled to get a foothold with Clarke registering a second point in the second minute before a mix-up between Gerard O’Kane and Dermot McBride almost let Kevin Dyas in for a goal but the half forward elected to increase the Armagh lead to three points.
McKeever’s battle with late Derry addition Danny Heavron was looking something of a mismatch at times as the experienced Armagh man was able to find space almost at will and he should have found the back of the net on five minutes when sent clear by Clarke. The half-back steadied himself to shoot but Thomas Mallon was quick off his line to block superbly.
That sort of loose finishing was looking increasingly expensive as McIver’s team, driven on by an impressive half-back line, gradually got a foothold in the game. Emmett McGuckin was proving a real handful for the Armagh full-back line, his ability to win ball allowing Derry to slowly play their way back into the game.
Gavin McParland’s point on 15 minutes gave his side a four point lead but it would be another 10 minutes before the visitors split the posts again finally got to grips with the game. With Armagh’s backline pre-occupied with how they could stop McGuckin, Charlie Kielt grabbed Derry’s first score on 16 minutes.
McGuckin quickly doubled that tally before Lee Kennedy signalled Derry’s growing influence with an excellent point on 20 minutes from a Sean Leo McGoldrick pass.
Derry’s fourth point was probably the score of the night as Lynch intercepted a dangerous Armagh pass 30 yards from his own goal before launching a superb counter-attack that ended with Benny Heron brilliantly picking out James Kielt who levelled the game on 21 minutes.
Armagh’s dominant start was looking a distant memory as the Derry back lines who had struggled for the opening quarter were now first to everything. Aaron Kernan’s free proved short respite for the visitors as Derry and McGuckin hit back. Benny Heron’s was probably shooting when his pass found the big Magherafelt man in front of goal. McGuckin plucked the ball out of the sky, turned and dummied Philip McEvoy before the Armagh keeper recovered superbly to block his goal bound effort. Brendan Donaghy’s eventually touched the ball on the ground to give James Kielt an easy free but Armagh had got off the hook.
Two further points from Kielt looked set to send Derry into the break with an unlikely two point advantage only for Ciaran Hanratty to cut the deficit to one with the last kick of an eventful half.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first, with Armagh in control and within two point they had added points from Stefan Forker, Kernan (free) and Stephen Harold to forge ahead at 0-9 to 0-7.
Stung into action, Derry responded through their Kielt connection, Charlie and James combining for the latter to send over an immaculate left footed kick from wide on the left hand side, his fifth score of the game. Armagh were winning a scrappy midfield battle and stretched their lead through frees from Kernan and Forker. That lead should have been added to with a goal but when corner-back Declan McKenna was sent clean through he blazed his effort over the bar with men free either side of him to leave it 0-12 to 0-08.
Derry responded to that let-off with points from Lee Kennedy and another James Kielt free as neither side was able to take a degree of control. Home hopes suffered a blow when McGuckin was forced to retire with an ankle injury before Kielt was able to reduce the deficit to one from his third free of the night.
Both sides were going for the jugular, Armagh pulling away after points from Anto Duffy and McParland before Derry again responded to turn a two point deficit into a one point advantage through Kennedy, Heavron and Enda Lynn with eight minutes left.
Back came Armagh though a Clarke free before Kielt restored the Derry lead and Clarke once again brought the sides level with two minutes remaining. It was anyone’s game was tempers flared, both teams aware the next score likely to be the winner. James Kielt last minute shot was as close as Derry came until Armagh sub Duffy brought down Charlie Kielt. Up stepped captain Mark Lynch but his effort tailed inches wide and with it went Derry hopes of a third successive league victory.
Derry: Thomas Mallon; Gerard O’Kane, Chrissy McKaigue, Dermot McBride; Charlie Kielt (0-1), Mark Lynch (0-1) (c), Sean Leo McGoldrick; Patsy Bradley, PJ McCloskey; Danny Heavron (0-1), James Kielt (0-8, 5f), Enda Lynn (0-1); Benny Heron, Emmett McGuckin (0-1), Lee Kennedy (0-3). (Subs) Raymond WIlkinson for E McGuckin (inj), 54mins; Ciaran McFaul for B Heron, 61mins;
Armagh:Philip McEvoy, James Morgan, James Donnelly, Declan McKenna (0-1); Aaron Kernan (0-3, 3f) , Brendan Donaghy, Ciaran McKeever; James Lavery, Stephen Harold (0-1); Kevin Dyas (0-1), Johnny Hanratty (0-1), Caolan Rafferty; Jamie Clarke (0-3, 1f), Stefan Forker (0-2, 1f), Gavin McParland (0-3). (Subs) Mark Shields for J Morgan, 42mins; Gary McCory for J Donnelly, 45mins; Anto Duffy (0-1) for C McKeever, 49 minutes; Tony Kernan for J Hanratty, 59mins; Brian Mallon for A Kernan, 64mins;
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).
See Tuesday’s ‘Journal’ for full in-depth analysis and post-match reaction.