FIFTY-ONE weeks ago Derry entertained Kerry in the opening round of the league at Celtic Park and crashed 3-13 to 1-09 in a one sided encounter.
On Sunday, new Derry manager Ger Rogan sent out a side that contained just keeper Daryl McDermott, Ruairi Convery and Kevin Hinphe, Oisin McCloskey, Paddy Henry and Paddy McCloskey from that game.
By the time the referee signalled the end of an increasingly one-sided encounter, Alan Grant’s 28th minute strike the turning point, Derry had crushed the challenge of an Armagh team that arrived at Fr. McNally Park with serious ambitions of further denting Derry’s fast-waning position of a top three rating in Ulster.
The game was competitive for much of the first half, the sides level three times in the opening 15 minutes before Derry edged 0-05 to 0-03 and then 0-07 to 0-04 in front though Armagh did level with seven minutes of the half remaining.
The respective free takers - Derry’s Ruairi Convery and Paddy Henry with 0-04 each and Armagh’s Declan Coulter 0-05 - dominated the scoring but it was pacy Na Magha youngster Alan Grant who grabbed the goal that gave Derry a 1-09 to 0-08 interval lead before about 100 faithful followers in Banagher.
Armagh’s cause was not helped by the dismissal of Brian Mallon after a second yellow card three minutes into the second half, their composure and discipline debilitating thereafter as they lost their way against a Derry side that yielded little in defence where Conor Quinn and Mark Craig closed off the centre, Cormac McKenna and Sean Cassidy completing a half back trio.
When Convery dispatched a penalty to the net a minute later, following a foul on Sean McBride, the die was cast for the visitors, 2-09 to 0-09 behind, Derry with their tails up and Armagh utterly dependant on the accurate Coulter who finished with 0-09.
With Convery and Henry plundering scores at will, mostly from placed balls and contributing 1-12 between them against a wilting and at times indisciplined Armagh defence, the margin grew wider and wider.
The game became just a tad tetchy in the third quarter, Derry’s midfielder Oisin McCloskey picking up a second yellow card after a 48th minute entanglement with Armagh substitute Martin Maguire.
A few minutes from the end Maguire would also pick up a red card, following his second booking, but by that stage the game was done and dusted, Paddy McCloskey’s blistering 30m shot whistling past keeper Jody Burke to put Derry 3-13 to 0-12 in front.
The final whistle was sweet music to the Derry ears, a shell-shocked Armagh retreating to one corner of the pitch for their warm down, a grim-faced Orchard County manager declining to comment on his team’s performance.
In contrast, Ger Rogan took time to express his satisfaction with the victory, all the while ensuring that nobody would get carried away with the commanding 11-point win.
“Happy enough! I said that I wouldn’t put too much store on whether we won or lost and I’m not going to change my mind now but I’m delighted with the commitment of the players and the work rate was good throughout,” explained Rogan.
The former Antrim player had to start almost from scratch when he took up the reins a few weeks back, 13 players from last year’s panel no longer available for a variety of reasons and three or four on the sideline through injury.
“We had four or five injured so all in all I’m very, very happy with the players that came in. I’ve said it for the last few weeks that the lads who’ve come in were very committed and I was very happy with what we had and they proved me right there today.”
Na Magha’s Alan Grant scored a decisive goal and caused loads of problems to the Armagh defence. Rogan opined with a smile.
“He’s a bit pacy, isn’t he! Great Kid! His work rate in training is just the same as in a National League game. I’m delighted with his performance, coming from a junior club Na Magha. He has good pace and he’s very brave. He’s a very strong hurler and he knows where the posts are.”
Given that Armagh had leapfrogged Derry in the Ulster pecking order in the last couple of years this was certainly a morale booster for the Oak Leaf County.
“No doubt about that. It’s good to get off to a winning start. It gives a bit of a buzz about the squad. Armagh are by no means a poor team and they worked very hard against us today. They’re a good side, as they’ve shown in the past couple of seasons.
“For that reason this was a very good result but we’ll not get carried away with the win. We have another game next Sunday in Kildare and we’ll just make sure that we have everybody ready for that game.”
Even though most of Derry’s points came from placed balls, they did pressurise the Armagh defence into conceding a succession of frees, and also grabbed goals at important junctures.
“That return would win most games but I was much happier with the work rate of the boys when they did not have the ball. I think that’s where most games are won and lost. Our players showed a massive appetite that the Armagh players could not meet. I’m quite happy now, delighted in fact,” added Rogan.
Derry: Daryl McDermott; Ciaran Mackle, Conor Quinn, Lee Hawkins; Cormac McKenna, Mark Craig, Sean Cassidy; Oisin McCloskey, Kevin Hinphey (0-02); Alan Grant (1-01), Ruairi Convery (1-05, 4f, 1‘65’), Paddy Henry (0-07, 7f); Oisin Doherty, Paddy McCloskey (1-00), Paddy Kelly (0-01). (Subs) Bliadhan Glass for C Mackle, 29 mins; Sean McBride for O Doherty, HT; Anton Rafferty for A Grant, 60 mins; Aaron Kelly for P Henry, 61 mins.
Armagh: Jody Burke; Brian Mallon, Paul Gaffney, Barry Breen; Conor Corvan (0-01), Nathan Curry, Phillip Kirk; Cathal Carvil (0-01), Kiran McKernan; Ryan Gaffney (0-1) Ruairi McGrattan, John Corvan (0-2); Ger Enright, Declan Coulter (0-09, 6f, 2 ‘65s’), Paul McCormick. (Subs) Michael Lennon for G Enright, 41 mins; Martin Maguire for P McCormick 41 mins; James King for C Carvill, 45 mins; Cathal Carvill for R McGrattan, 51 mins.
Referee: Declan Magee (Down).