Derry 3-14 Armagh 1-11
Derry conquered their semi-final demons with a triumphant display of attacking football at Clones this afternoon.
Having lost on seven occasions at this stage in the last decade, they finally made it through to their first Ulster football final in 11 years.
They did it in some style, stunning pre-match favourites Armagh with an irresistible performance.
Eoghan Bradley and Conleith Gilligan scored 1-5 each, with Mark Lynch contributing a goal and two points from play.
The Oak Leafers gained a foothold in midfield through rugged pair James Kielt and Michael Friel early on, and crucially, never lost control of this vital sector, where they established a platform for a comfortable nine points success.
Armagh had taken a big scalp last time out, when they defeated last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists Down, but they were never at the races in this one, even when a Micheal O’Rourke goal narrowed the gap to two points early in the second half.
Bradley stroked over a couple of early frees, but Armagh responded with scores from Stevie McDonnell and Micheal O’Rourke.
Lynch fired over a wonderful point from wide on the right to regain the lead for the Oak Leafers, but O’Rourke quickly cancelled out that effort with a neat point.
Armagh crafted a goal chance when Jamie Clarke, Kevin Dyas and Billy Joe Padden combined to send McDonnell through, but this shot was superbly saved by Danny Devlin.
Clarke squeezed over a point from an almost impossible angle, but Bradley was in the mood, drifting deep to launch his third score from play from 45 metres out.
And Derry scored a wonderful goal on the half hour, an intricate move started and finished by Lynch, with quick-handed passed from Sean Leo McGoldrick and Michael Bateson playing a crucial part.
Winning the midfield battle through Joe Diver, Michael Friel and Enda Muldoon, Derry continued to dominate, and went in at the break with a 1-8 to 0-6 advantage.
But Armagh made an explosive start to the second half, Micheal O’Rourke planting the ball in the bottom corner of Devlin’s net from McDonnell’s incisive offload.
Now just two points separated the sides, but the Oak Leafers stepped on the gas once again, and when Bradley nipped in behind Andy Mallon, his third marker, to collect James Kielt’s superb delivery and blast to the net in the 47th minute, they were on their way.
Armagh did respond with a string of points from McDonnell and Charlie Vernon, but the game was out of sight when Gilligan raced through from Lynch’s pass to drill the ball past Paul Hearty for a third goal.
Gilligan tapped over another couple of frees to bring his tally to 1-5, a target Bradley had also reached when he was called ashore to a huge ovation with five minutes to play.
It was exhibition stuff for John Brennan’s men in the closing stages, as they stroked the ball about, and picked off a few late scores at their leisure, and a deflated Armagh team began to contemplate an uncertain future in the Qualifiers.
Derry: D Devlin, SL McGoldrick (0-1), K McGuckin, D McBride, B Og McAlary, C Kielt (0-1), M Bateson, J Diver, M Friel, M Lynch (1-2), J Kielt, B McGoldrick, E Muldoon, E Bradley (1-5, 0-2f), C Gilligan (1-5 (0-5f).
Subs: C Mullan for McAlarey, C O’Boyle for Muldoon, E McGuckin for Bradley, C McGoldrick for Lynch.
Armagh: P Hearty, A Mallon, B Donaghy, K Dyas, A Kernan (0-1), C McKeever, V Martin, K Toner, C Vernon (0-1), T Kernan, BJ Padden, M Mackin, M O’Rourke (1-1), S McDonnell 0-6 (3f, 1 ’45), J Clarke (0-1).
Subs: J Lavery for Martin, P Duffy (0-1) for Dyas, D McKenna for Padden, B Mallon for O’Rourke, J Murtagh for T Kernan.
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).