Derry 3-10, Armagh 2-12
Derry kicked off 2017 with a hard earned one point victory over Armagh after a high scoring McKenna Cup opener in front of 2,281 spectators at Owenbeg on Sunday.
The home side looked lethargic in the early exchanges but eventually settled with Adrian McLaughlin’s brilliant first half goal setting the Oak Leafers on their way to a much improved second half display.
Ciaran McKeever’s goal late into injury time did bring the game back to a one point match but it arrived too late for Kieran McGeeney’s side to salvage a point.
With Derry manager Damian Barton absent due to a pre-planned holiday in Australia, Brian McGuckin took charge of Oak Leaf team affairs but it was Armagh who enjoyed the better of the low key early exchanges.
And any spectators keenly waiting to see what impact the introduction of the ‘mark’ would have must have been bitterly disappointed. Both teams looked short from any kick-outs and it took until the 19th minute for Armagh’s Niall Rowland to claim the distinction of the first, and only man in the half, to win a kick-out beyond the ‘45. Indeed there would be only two in the entire match.
With so many changes, Derry looked disjointed in the opening quarter as Armagh manufactured a 1-01 to no score lead by the seventh minute. The impressive Rowland opened the scoring with a point before Derry’s inability to deal with the Orchard County’s second runner off the ball in paid dividends.
Ciaran McKeever was using all his experience at full forward and did well to win a difficult ball in under pressure from Oisin Duffin, picking out the run of Anthony Duffy who burst through to finish superbly to the net past Ben McKinless.
And McGeeney’s team should have been further ahead. Six first half wides, most from eminently scorable positions, tells its own stores while Simon McCoy passed up a gilt edged chance when he blazed wide in the 14th minute.
Both Derry midfielders, Banagher Gavin O’Neill and Craigbane’s McLaughlin, were booked in the early minutes but gradually Derry settled with Niall McLoughlin, Benny Heron and McLaughlin instrumental in getting the home side a foothold in the game.
Emmett McGuckin was battling away bravely at No. 14 but far too isolated against a packed Armagh defence. It took until the 19th minute for Loughlin to break the Derry deadlock from a well struck ‘45’ but after that, the home side never looked back.
McLaughlin hit a superb 50m score from play to make it 0-2 to 1-2 after a Rory Grugan free. McGuckin and Loughlin closed the deficit further but Armagh still deservedly held a 1-03 to 0-04 lead when McLaughlin hit a superb first goal in Derry senior colours one minute before half-time.
A sweeping Derry move eventually saw Bell picked out McLaughlin arriving at pace and despite having three Armagh defenders putting pressure on him, the Craigbane man hit a superb finish across Matthew McNiece and into the far side of the Armagh net to put the home side 1-4 to 1-3 ahead.
A Loughlin free capped an excellent second quarter for the home side who went in leading 1-5 to 1-3 after 35 minutes in which they had played second fiddle for long spells.
The second half was a much better spectacle as the spaces began to open up.
the sides were going tit-for-tat until with Armagh edging ahead until McGuckin saw his shot blocked by Stephen Sheridan’s foot and the big Magherafelt forward slammed home the resulting penalty.
The game looked to be over as a contest 20 minutes into the second half when Derry grabbed their third goal when Peter Hagan sent substitute Enda Lynn through with the Greenlough forward finding the net with an emphatic finish for 3-07 to 1-08.
Both sides rang the changes but the was the visitors who cope better with substitute Ben Crealy helping himself to three points from play. McKeever’s late goal threatened to set up a grand stand finish but it wasn’t to be although both sides will be reasonable happy with their first outing of the season.
Derry: Ben McKinless; Oisin Hegarty, Oisin Duffin, Peter Hagan; Patrick Coney, Jack Doherty, Neil Forester; Gavin O’Neill, Aidan McLaughlin; Gavin O’Neill, Aidan McLaughlin (1-1); Michael Warnock (0-1), Niall Loughlin (0-4,2f, 1 forty-five), Carlus McWilliams; Ryan Bell (0-2), Emmett McGuckin (1-1, 1pen), Benny Heron. (Subs) Enda Lynn (1-0) for G O’Neill, 45mins; Conor Nevein for A McLaughlin, 47mins; Ronan Murphy for E McGuckin, 55mins; Patrick Kearney (0-1) for P Coney, 55mins; Conor McGrogan for M Warnock, 66mins; Mark Lynch for J Doherty, 69mins;
Armagh: Matthew McNiece; Oisin Lappin, Charlie Vernon, John McGill (0-1); Simon McCoy, Niall Rowland (0-1), Ciaran Higgins; Stephen Sheridan, Aaron Findon; Aidan Forker, Niall McConville, Rory Grugan (0-2, 2f); Anthony Duffy (1-0), Ciaran McKeever (1-1), Oisin Mac Iomhair (0-3, 2f). (Subs) Conor White for Niall McConville , H/T; Ben Crealey (0-3) for Simon McCoy, H/T; Jemar Hall for N Rowland, 54mins. Ethan Rafferty (0-1, 1 forty-five) for A Findon, 58mins;
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermangh)