Armagh 1-18 Derry 0-15: Armagh went down, but not without a fight, and Kieran McGeeney took the positives from a difficult spring despite the team’s relegation from Division 2 for the second time in three seasons.
His players were applauded off in the Athletic Grounds by a band of supporters who clearly felt the same after yesterday’s encouraging finish to the campaign.
“All I can say is that I’m happy with Armagh,” he said.
“There was pressure to win it and the boys responded well. We’ve learned a lot.”
Armagh ended with draws against Galway and Tyrone followed by this comfortable six-point win over Derry but still lost out on scoring difference.
Ultimately it was the 17-point hammering by Cavan last month which proved to be their undoing but McGeeney insisted: “Apart from that game, we’ve been competitive”.
“We’ve been missing easy chances but I think we’ve a better structure at the back, we’re moving in the right direction and we’re getting players back, so we’re in a good position in that sense.
“It’s just disappointing we’re going down but it’s been a tough division. Four teams finished on six points.
“We’ve turned things around since then and are playing better football. I couldn’t have asked for any more today.”
Damian Barton was back on the sidelines for Derry after serving an eight-week ban which he labelled after the game as “ridiculous”.
He was punished for his part in the brawl against Tyrone during the McKenna Cup final and admitted: “I’m not happy. I’m not happy about serving it.”
Armagh effectively won the game by scoring an unanswered 1-5 in 15 minutes before the break to open up a 1-12 to 0-7 interval lead.
Ethan Rafferty hit three of his seven frees during that spell while Rory Grugan also nailed two from play, with Micheal McKenna grabbing the goal in stoppage time.
After good work by Stefan Campbell and Ciaran O’Hanlon, he cut inside to drill the ball low with his left foot for the decisive strike.
Stefan Campbell opened up with superb points from play off either foot while Christopher Bradley also hit two memorable points in a first half littered wth quality scores.
When Colm Watters scored in the 45th minute, he completed the set with all six Armagh starting forwards scoring from play.
The second half failed to live up to the heights of the first, but Derry did close the gap to three points with Armagh missing a lot of chances.
Knowing scoring difference could be crucial, Armagh kept pressing and hit four of the last five points but it wasn’t enough – they needed another five points to beat the drop. But despite relegation, they still finished a mixed campaign on a positive note.
Scorers for Armagh:
E Rafferty (0-7f); M McKenna (1-1); S Campbell (0-3); R Grugan (0-2); A Mallon, M Shields, C O’Hanlon, C Watters, G McParland (0-1 each)
Scorers for Derry:
M Lynch (0-7f); J Kielt (0-3, 2 frees); C Bradley (0-2); E McGuckin, SL McGoldrick, R Bell (0-1 each)
P Morrison; A Mallon, C Vernon, S Heffron; M Shields, S Connell, J McElroy; A Forker, E Rafferty; R Grugan, M McKenna, C O’Hanlon; C Watters, S Campbell, G McParland
T Kernan for McElroy (48), N Grimley for O’Hanlon (55), M McNeice for Morrison (58), A Findon for McParland (69)
T Mallon; O Duffy, C McKaigue, K McKaigue; L McGoldrick, B Rogers, D Heavron; C McAtamney, C McFaul; N Loughlin, C Bradley, J Kielt; E McGuckin, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick
E Bradley for McAtamney (34), R Bell for SL McGoldrick (HT), C Mullan for L McGoldrick (HT), C Murphy for Loughlin (55), D Mullan for McGuckin (55), C O’Boyle for Kielt (64)
Fergal Kelly (Longford)
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