Armagh produced a sterling performance full of fight, strength and maturity at Celtic Park yesterday.
In a game that was hard to predict beforehand it was settled in a couple of key moments either side of half-time.
However, to be fair and surprisingly unbiased, Armagh looked the better side throughout with their intelligent play and their commitment to hard work.
For Derry 1993 seemed further away than ever as they lacked penetration from the mercurial Bradley duo.
Armagh defended with the superb Ciaran McKeever as sweeper and this Armagh team have real top class quality defenders ably supported by man-of-the-match Kieran Toner and Charlie Vernon once moved to midfield.
Derry lacked direction and innovation and their continual reliance on the possession/going nowhere style is far too easy for quality teams to defend. Although it would be folly to write them off, they still look far from the finished article.
Armagh for their part are rapidly improving and although still heavily reliant on Steven McDonnell, have a freshness, desire and team ethic that will only be improved with the emergence of new talent such as Ryan Henderson and Jamie Clarke further complimented by the return of Ronan Clarke.
The game turned ironically after Derry scored a superb team goal with Armagh showing
great maturity and confidence to secure three successive McDonnell points to ensure level scoreboard at half-time. In that period Armagh attacked from all areas running at the heart of Derry’s defence and causing them to concede needless frees. Clarke’s goal in the early stages of the second-half was proof if needed that the ball should do the work. A great 40-yard delivery from McDonnell to Clarke was finished calmly and allowed Armagh the breathing space for victory. At the other end Paul Hearty produced a moment of brilliance by saving a late Gerard O’Kane penalty that ensured Armagh of a more comfortable score line than the match suggested.
Armagh now head to Casement Park to play the highly fancied Monaghan and pit their wits against old ally Paul Grimley. Derry meanwhile will have to regroup and look forward to another year through the back door; a route they have become familiar with. As an aside, the new hand pass rules caused much confusion for players, spectators and referees alike.