Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section B
Derry 2-14, Ulster University 3-10
Damian McErlain's reign as Derry senior football manager got off to a winning start as the Oak Leafers kicked off 2018 with a one point victory over an experienced Ulster University side in Section B of the McKenna Cup.
The students had Rory Brenna sent off in the second half for striking out at Enda Lynn but never looked out of a very open game which bore all the hall marks of a season opener.
Derry started with eight of the first 15 having played under McErlain at minor level with a further three who played under the new manager named on the bench. In total there were four debutantes lining out at the first whistle with Conor McCluskey, Ruairi Mooney, Padraig McCrogan and Jordan Curran making their senior bow.
On the opposite side, the Ulster University named Derry trio Gareth McKinless, Terence O'Brien and Danny Tallon in a starting line-up with plenty of inter-county experience with Barry Grant and Oisin Duffin among the substitutes.
The Celtic Park pitch was in superb condition considering the punishing weather of late but it still made for a difficult surface for the players.
Th students employed a clever high press on the Derry kick was meant Derry struggled in the opening half to engineer any clean ball from their own kick outs. With the Oak Leaf players marked, any extra space with occupied by University players which meant Ben McKinless was forced to kick long and the Students more than broke even on those kicks.
McErlain pushed four men up front with both sides content to go man for man.
O'Brien started at full forward for the visitors but it was Derry who got the scores moving through a more than familiar source as Enda Lynn grabbed the county's first score of 2018 with a second minute point.
From there until half-time there was precious little between the teams. Points from Johnny Monroe, David Mulgrew (free) and Ryan McAnespie had the students two in front but Derry soon equalised through frees from Peter Hagan and Ciaran McFaul after the former had seen his initial effort strike the students' post.
A superb Terence O'Brien point had the students in front and Derru were indebted to McKinless for a great save with his feet from Eoin McHugh before Monroe extended the lead with a lovely long range point.
That two point advantage last only second with Derry finding the net through Lynn's fists after a lovely, flowing move for a one point lead.
The goal didn't deter Paul Rouse's side though who stayed in touch through an O'Brien '45'.
The sides went tit-for-tat until half-time, a Michael McEvoy point eventually giving Derry a 1-06 to 0-08 interval lead though Derry breathed a sigh of relief when McKinless misjudged Daire Gallagher's long range effort which beat him but not the upright.
The second half was more of the same, neither side able to fully wrestle control of of the other's grasp.
the students gave themselves a real chance when O'Brien scored from the penalty spot after McAnespie had been fouled by Kevin Johnston who should have been awarded an earlier free in the build-up.
That three point lead didn't last though as substitute James Kielt, who finished with 1-2, Lynn and Kielt again.
A second University goal, this time from Derry forward Danny Tallon who slipped the ball under McKinless from an acute angle looked to have Derry in trouble but Kielt responded within second by thundering a left footed shot past Sean Fox from Lynn's pass.
At 2-09 a-piece it was anyone's game and even without the now dismised Brennan, it was the students who were continually fashioning the goal chances. McKinless produced another two great saves, one from Tallon while Ruairi McGlone had earlier struck a posy but the introduction of Mark Lynch helped get Derry over the line.
Two Ciaran McFaul points and one from Lynch put Derry 2-13 to 2-10 ahead and when Lynn tagged on a fourth successive score, it looked game over.
However, there was still time for McGlone to cut through to grabbed a third University goal but it was too late for the students to grab what would have been a deserved share of the spoils.
Derry: Ben McKinless; Conor McCluskey, Kevin Johnston, Ruairi Mooney (0-1); Padraig McGrogan, Michael McEvoy (0-1), Jordan Curran; Jack Doherty, Patrick Kearney; Conor Doherty, Ciaran McFaul (0-1, 1f), Patrick Coney (0-1); Enda Lynn (1-3), Niall Toner, Peter Hagan (0-1, 1f).
(Subs) Conor McAtamney for P Kearney, HT; Liam McGoldrick for J Curran, HT; James Kielt (1-2, 1f) for C Doherty, HT; Mark Lynch (0-2) for N Toner, 46mins; Sean McKeever for P McGrogan, 55mins;
Yellow Cards: P Kearney, 26mins; M McEvoy, 54mins; M Lynch 60mins; K Johnston 65mins;
Ulster University: Sean Fox; Cillian McCann, Conor Burke, Malachy Magee; Rory Brennan (0-1), Ronan McNamee, Gareth McKinless; Johnny Monroe (0-2), Terence O'Brien (1-2, 1pen, 1 forty-five); Ryan McAnespie (0-1), Danny Tallon (1-0), David Mulgrew (0-4, 4f); Eoin McHugh, Fintan McClure, Daire Gallagher.
(Subs) Barry Grant for G McKinless, HT; Oisin Duffin for C Burke, HT; Ruairi McGlone (1-0) for F McClure, 43mins; Mattew Walsh for D Gallagher, 50mins; Sean Loughrey for J Monroe, 63mins; Loran Harney for D Tallon, 69mins;
Yellow Cards: O'Brien, 14mins; McKinless, 26mins
Red Card: R Brennan, 44mins.
Referee: Ciaran Mooney (Down)