McGeeney woe as Orchard suffer relegation
Armagh 1-18 Derry 0-15
Seldom has an Armagh victory carried such a bittersweet taste. Kieran McGeeney's side managed to finish their campaign by claiming the scalp of Derry but their only 'reward' is demotion to Division Three.
Earlier inept performances came back to haunt the Orchard County, with other results meaning they suffer the drop on scoring difference.
For now, though, McGeeney is left to reflect on his team's inability to hit the ground running.
"The Cavan result in particular was a blow and the fact that we had players missing but I'm not making excuses," said McGeeney. "If I had been told at the start of the league that we would get four points from our last three matches I would have gladly taken it. We have to accept that we are where we are."
Armagh offered an early insight into their new-found confidence when they swept into a 0-7 to 0-3 lead with just 15 minutes gone, Stefan Campbell and Ciaron O'Hanlon having by then put their best foot forward.
But Derry, with Ciaran McFaul, Emmet McGuckin and Liam McGoldrick called into their side at the eleventh hour, began to show more cohesion and Mark Lynch triggered a brief lucrative stint when his point from a free was followed by similar scores from Emmet Bradley and McGuckin.
That was as good as it got for Derry, though. With Aidan Forker and Ethan Rafferty impressive at midfield and Campbell an elusive target man, the home side powered forward time and again, their smart approach work complemented by some sublime finishing from distance.
Rafferty's second point from a free was the signal for an Orchard County onslaught which saw Rory Grugan pocket a brace of points before the accurate Rafferty piloted over a similar contribution from placed balls.
It was Micheal McKenna, though, who applied gloss.
Grugan, Campbell and O'Hanlon were involved in a sweeping move that saw the ball finally transferred into McKenna's arms and the Grange clubman drilled to the net to give his side a commanding 1-12 to 0-7 interval lead.
But Derry's spirit and energy surfaced strongly in the third quarter when, mainly through Lynch, they pegged their hosts back at 1-14 to 0-14.
Seven minutes of added time were played and Armagh availed of the opportunity to cement their win with late points from Rafferty, Campbell and veteran Andy Mallon.
Derry boss Damian Barton did not pull any punches when assessing his side's performance.
"I thought we had a tendency to self-destruct and the boys would not be happy with their overall performance," he declared.
Armagh: P Morrison; A Mallon 0-1, C Vernon, S Heffron; M Shields 0-1, S Connell, J McElroy; A Forker, E Rafferty 0-7 (all frees); R Grugan 0-2, M McKenna 1-1, C O'Hanlon 0-1; C Watters 0-1, S Campbell 0-3, G McParland 0-1. Subs: T Kernan for McElroy (47), N Grimley for O'Hanlon (54), M McNeice for Morrison (58), A Findon for McParland (69). Yellow cards: McKenna (19), O'Hanlon (38), Heffron (65).
Derry: T Mallon; O Duffy, C McKaigue, K McKaigue; L McGoldrick, B Rogers, D Heavron; C McAtamney, C McFaul; E McGuckin, C Bradley, J Kielt 0-2; N Loughlin, M Lynch 0-7 (all frees), S L McGoldrick 0-1. Subs: E Bradley for McAtamney (33), C Mullan for L McGoldrick (half-time), R Bell for S L McGoldrick (half-time), D Mullan for McGuckin (55), C Murphy for Loughlin (55), C O'Boyle for Kielt (64). Yellow cards: Rogers (19, Bradley (38).
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)