There may have been a few stumbles along the way, but Ulster football's established order of merit remains unaltered, with Armagh preparing to face up to great rivals Tyrone in the provincial final following their 1-11 to 0-10 victory over Derry at Casement Park. The Orchard men booked their passage to the Croke Park decider without ever reaching their full potential, Derry's disappointing challenge dealt with in an efficient, adequate, if unspectacular fashion.
John Toal's goal midway through the second half finally broke Oak Leaf spirit and gave Joe Kernan, banished to the stand for this game, an opportunity to relax. Derry's Paddy Bradley offered early suggestions that he could produce another big attacking display, skinning marker Andy Mallon for two points inside the opening six minutes. But the Oak Leaf men had little else to offer up front, and shot a succession of disappointing wides.
Armagh were more efficient in front of goal, easing ahead through Aaron Kernan, Steven McDonnell and Oisin McConville. And when Martin O'Rourke combined with Kieran McGeeney and McDonnell to shoot a superb point from wide on the right, the Orchard men led by 0-5 to 0-2.
Derry went more than 20 minutes without scoring, with Enda McNulty now taking up the marking duties on danger man Bradley. It was Bradley's younger brother Eoin who ended their barren spell with a neat score, but instantly, Armagh broke for Brian Mallon to start and finish a fluid left wing move.
Paul Murphy pulled a point back, and Derry, in spite of their failings in front of goal, trailed by just a point at the break, 0-06 to 0-04. But it just didn't happen for Mickey Moran's side in the second half. Fergal Doherty had been toiling with some success in the middle of the field, but they lacked the finishing power to take advantage of his efforts.
And when Armagh introduced Tony McEntee and John Toal, the two big, powerful men effectively shored up the central area and gave their side added impetus going forward. It was Toal who banged home the only goal of the game midway through the half, collecting the rebound after Barry Gillis had saved from the excellent Kernan to blast to the roof of the net.
Brian Mallon and Kernan, from a free, tagged on points, and at 1-10 to 0-07, Armagh were virtually out of sight. But Derry displayed courage and pride, refusing to die, and late points from the Bradleys, Paddy and Eoin, and Mark Lynch saw them go down battling.
Armagh: P Hearty, A Mallon, F Bellew, E McNulty, A Kernan (0-04, 3 frees), K McGeeney, A O'Rourke, P Loughran. P McGrane, M O'Rourke (0-01), J McEntee, O McConville (0-01), S McDonnell (0-02, 1 free), R Clarke (0-01), B Mallon (0-02). Subs: J Toal (1-00) for McEntee, T McEntee for Loughran, S Kernan for B Mallon, M Mackin for Clarke, C McKeever for A Kernan.
Derry: B Gillis, K McGuckin, K McCloy, G O'Kane, P Wilson, SM Lockhart, P Kelly, F Doherty, Patsy Bradley, P Murphy (0-01), M Lynch (0-01), E Bradley (0-02), C Devlin, Paddy Bradley (0-05, 2 frees), E Muldoon (0-01, free). Subs: P McFlynn for Kelly, J McBride for Devlin, F McEldowney for Wilson, M Kelly for O'Kane.
Referee: M Monahan (Kildare).