Emmett McGuckin is delighted to see Derry hit the ground running
Derry 3-10 Armagh 2-12
Owenbeg played host to an enjoyably open but competitive Dr McKenna Cup curtain-raiser with hosts Derry edging Armagh by a single point.
Niall Loughlin top scored for the Oak Leafs with four points, but it was goals from Aidy McLaughlin, Emmett McGuckin and impact sub Enda Lynn which ultimately brought Derry their first victory over the Orchard County in three meetings.
Despite both sides fielding no shortage of rookie players at this level, the football on show was happily better than that usually served up in January and the 2,200 fans were entertained.
"We are delighted to win," explained Derry assistant manager Brian McGuckin in the absence of Damian Barton, who is away on a pre-arranged family holiday. "Winning, believe it or not, was not our ultimate aim but we are trying to create that culture.
"We were delighted with the work rate in a lot of the areas we have worked on. A lot of things came off but there are certainly areas we need to develop.
"There were a lot of basic errors, but it is the first game of the year so you have to expect that and all in all, it was a good run out. I'm delighted with the effort and with the win."
Kieran McGeeney's team continued their fine O'Fiaich Cup-winning form in the early phases and were worth their 1-2 to 0-1 lead after 24 minutes, Anto Duffy hitting their major.
But the Oak Leafs battled back with man of the match Benny Heron to the fore, and when returning midfielder Aidy McLaughlin rattled the back of the net in the 34th minute it handed Derry the advantage at the break, 1-5 to 1-3.
However, in a game which swayed continually, Armagh regained the lead at 1-7 to 1-6 after the interval through points from John McGill, Ciaran McKeever and impressive debutant Ben Crealy.
Emmett McGuckin's penalty in the 43rd minute quickly followed by Lynn's bullet of a goal then saw Derry grab the game by the scruff of the neck to lead by six points midway through the second half.
With 10 minutes to go, Armagh fought back with Crealy adding two further points and veteran McKeever scoring a scintillating 70th-minute goal.
The experienced Mark Lynch was brought on to guide the young Oak Leafers to victory as Swatragh teenager Patrick Kearney marked his debut with a late winning point.
Armagh have to cast their minds back to 1994 when they last lifted the McKenna Cup, but for defeated manager McGeeney there was room for optimism despite the loss.
"I felt we left a good lot behind us and in fairness to the Derry keeper he made a superb save for the last one," he said.
"There were a lot of good things for us. They fought back well after giving up the lead, showed some good composure at times, but poor at other times. I think there were more positives for us than negatives."
Armagh will regroup before the arrival of Queen's to the Athletic Grounds on Sunday, before they then make the short journey to rivals Down to complete their first round schedule. Derry will face another tough test next time out against Down before hosting the students on Wednesday week.
Scorers: Derry: Niall Loughlin 0-4 (3fs), Aidy McLaughlin 1-1, Emmett McGuckin 1-1, Enda Lynn 1-0, Ryan Bell 0-2, Michael Warnock 0-1, Patrick Kearney 0-1.
Armagh: Ciaran McKeever 1-1, Anto Duffy 1-0, Oisin Mac Iomhair 0-3 (1f), Ben Crealy 0-3, Rory Grugan 0-2 (2f), Niall Rowland 0-1, John McGill 0-1, Ethan Rafferty 0-1.
Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh)