DERRY MANAGER, Paddy Crozier, admitted he was a relieved man after the Oakleafers withstood a spirited second-half Mayo fightback to register a 2-9, 1-9 victory on their return to top flight National League Football at the newly floodlit Celtic Park last Saturday night.
Goals from Colin Devlin and Mark Lynch provided the platform for deserved victory in which the home side were made to work right to the final whistle with Peadar Gardiner and Andy Moran both striking the woodwork late on for John O'Mahoney's men.
"We were living on our nerves for the last minutes but we expected that, said Crozier afterwards.
"Mayo are a good side and we knew they would come at us. They were unlucky to hit the woodwork twice but John Deighan did well to tip one effort onto the bar.
"The conditions made the game difficult and we knew the weather would make it a 'game of two halves.' Mayo won the toss and elected to play against the wind which meant we knew we had to get as many scores against the breeze as we could.
"On a night like Saturday, scores against the breeze are very important as there was not a lot between the sides. They got two against the wind and we matched that, the big difference being we got Mark Lynch's goal at a vital time.
"In this division every point you pick up is going to be important, so we knew we had to start with a win. After the Down defeat we tried to look at the big picture and concentrate on the league and two points, so it is a positive start," he added.
With two more home fixtures to come - against Kildare and Tyrone - Crozier knows how important it was for Derry to make home advantage count against the Connacht side.
"We are obviously delighted to get our National League campaign off to a winning start and to pick up two points against last year's finalists.
"We are in a tough league and we know how vital the home fixtures could be. We had three difficult home matches, beginning with the Mayo game and in this division you want to be winning your home games.
"Yes, the Down defeat was disappointing but you don't become a bad player overnight and perhaps a few players had something to prove after the McKenna Cup defeat," noted the Derry boss.
A nine point wind-assisted interval lead was reflective of the home side's dominance with the elements at their back as the Oak Leaf forward line, often accused of being over reliant on Paddy Bradley, spread the scores around.
"There were some good performances all over the pitch and it was nice to see the scores spread throughout the forwards. Five out of our six forwards scored and we looked a threat going forward.
"It was also nice to see Barry McGoldrick getting back to something like his best and Colin Devlin's goal was typical of him. I don't normally like to pick out individual players, but I thought Enda Muldoon put in a vintage display," continued Crozier.
The home side started brightly with corner forwards Devlin and Ciaran Mullan causing the Mayo defence all sorts of problems.
And the Oak Leaf men took a third minute lead through the impressive Enda Muldoon before Andy Moran missed an easy chance to draw the 'Westerners' level when he shot wide from an easy free.
That miss looked costly as Derry began to dominate with Paddy Bradley involved in everything. The former All-Star fired over a 50 yard free before Andy Moran eventually the visitors on the scoreboard in the 13th minute.
There was little respite though for O'Mahoney's men as a superb move, involving four Derry forwards, ended with Bradley setting up Devlin for an excellent goal and a 1-2 to 0-1 lead after 14 minutes.
Further points from Bradley, Mark Lynch and Mullan gave Derry a commanding seven point lead by the 20 minute mark.
With Mayo's Conor Mortimer particularly wasteful from frees, Bradley extended the Derry lead on 24 minutes only for Austin O'Malley to respond with a great point for Mayo.
Visiting keeper, David Clarke, kept his side in the game with a superb save from Bradley before Mullan grabbed his second point of the game to give Derry a 1-8 to 0-2 lead a minute before the break. An injury time sideline free from Bradley completed the first half scoring with the home side well in control.
With the wind now at their backs following the change of ends, Mayo appeared a different side in the second half. First Moran fired over the bar from 30 yards before Alan Dillon and Mortimer scored from frees to leave bring the visitors back into the game at 1-8 to 0-5.
Another Dillon free looked to have brought Mayo within striking distance, but a superb 54th minute move involving Devlin and Lynch ended with the latter finding the net with a low finish for the game's pivotal score.
Mayo weren't finished though and they responded with a goal of their own when Mortimer nudged the ball home after a Dillon high ball caused chaos in the Derry goalmouth.
Another Mortimer point left four between the sides at 2-8 to 1-7 ten minutes from the end before Peadar Gardner struck the bar with the goal at his mercy to all but end Mayo hopes of a comeback.
Derry substitute, Cathal O'Kane, won and converted a free before Mayo
struck the Derry woodwork for the second time in injury time. Mickey Mullins grabbed a consolation point for Mayo right at the death.
It wasn't all good news for Derry though with Ryan Dillon and late substitute Raymond Wilkinson picking up injuries
Crozier explained: "The disappointing thing was we lost Ryan Dillon with a knee injury while Raymond Wilkinson dislocated his finger. We will have to assess how bad Ryan is on Tuesday night but Raymond is likely to be out for around six weeks.
"We had a number of other players missing but those that came in did well. We had our college players back, so it was good to see the strength in depth.
"Kevin (McCloy) picked up a dead leg against Down and wasn't quite ready for the Mayo game but he should be okay for our next fixture as should Niall McCusker," concluded Crozier.
DERRY - John Deighan; Ryan Dillon (Michael McIvor, 23 mins), Francis McEldowney, Kevin McGuckin; Liam Hinphey, Michael McBride, Joe Keenan; Fergal Doherty, James Conway; Mark Lynch (1-1), Barry McGoldrick (Cathal O'Kane, 55 mins, 0-1), Enda Muldoon (0-1); Colin Devlin (1-0), Paddy Bradley (0-4), Ciaran Mullan (0-2).
MAYO - David Clarke; Conor Moran (Tom Cunniffe, 35 mins), Billy Joe Pedan (Tom Parsons 55 mins) , Liam O'Malley; Chris Barrett (0-1), Trevor Howley, Keith Higgins; Seamus O'Shea, Peadar Gardiner; James Gill (David Heaney, 35 mins), Alan Dillon (0-2), Michael Mullins (0-1); Conor Mortimer (1-2), Austin O'Malley (0-1), Andy Moran (0-2).
REFREE - Mr. John Bannon (Longford).