Derry's promotion hopes suffered an early blow as they were held by Leitrim in their Allianz Football League Division 3 opener in Celtic Park on Saturday evening.

Indeed it took two late points from Ben McCarron and Ciaran McFaul to rescue a game that looked in danger of getting away from Derry who struggled to breakdown a Leitrim team whose counter-attacking game gave Derry problems through the 70-odd minutes.

Keith Beirne was the Leitrim hero, hitting 0-09 which included seven frees and one '45' as Derry's were constantly punished in the tackle.

A late sin-binning for Leitrim's Domhnaill Flynn and a red card for Derry's Carlus McWilliams capped a fantic finale with Leitrim trying to hold possession but the visitors more than deserved their share of the spoils.

Derry went in as favourites but the first half did not unfold as the home fans would have wished with Leitrim's deep-lying defensive formation taking advantage of some very loose Derry passing which all too often proved the springboard for Leitrim counter-attacks.

Derry were leaving Ryan Bell and Ben McCarron inside but with 14 Leitrim men back inside the visitors' '45' the two forwards were often starved of possession.

It took seven minutes for either side to trouble the scoreboard, Ciaran McFaul eventually splitting the posts for the evening's first score but within four minutes they were 0-03 to 0-01 down as the impressive Keith Beirne grabbed two frees and Shane Moran, wearing nine but operating at full forward, added another for the visitors.

That was impressive but Terry Hyland's team must have been pinching themselves on 13 minutes their two point lead became five courtesy of the of the game's opening goal.

A high Domhnaill Flynn shot dropped short but forced Derry keeper off his line to punch under pressure from Moran. Lynch's punch was decent but a lack of support meant Cillian McGloin was in acres of space as he gathered it, turned and fired an emphatic shot high into the Oak Leaf net.

Derry were stunned but responded well thanks to points from Emmett Bradley (two, one free) and Ryan Bell '45' as Eoghan Duffy had seen an excellent goal chance  saved by the feet of Leitrim keeper Diarmuid McKiernan with Ben McCarron free at the back post. 

Rory Gallagher's first league campaign as Derry campaign got off to a sluggish start at home to Leitrim

That left only the minimum between the teams at 0-06 to 1-04 but Leitrim quickly dispelled any notion that Derry were now in the ascendancy with three points of their own, again exploiting Derry loose passing to launch counter attacks that ended with points for Beirne and Darragh Rooney before another Beirne point left it 0-6 to 1-07 with three minutes of the half remaining.

Derry looked shell-shocked but produced a five point swing in the half's remaining minutes in a period that owed much to Gavin O'Neill's driving runs from midfield.

O'Neill's acceleration through the middle took him deep inside the Leitrim '45' with Emmet Bradley in support.

The former drew the remaining defenders before popping a hand pass right to Bradley who still had plenty to do but the Glen man was more than capable, stepping inside before unleashing a brilliant high finish into the net.

Suddenly, with one between the side again, the wind was in Derry sails and the turnaround was completed thanks to a lovely point from Eoghan Duffy and a superb long range effort from captain Chrissy McKaigue which left Derry going into the changing rooms one to the good at 1-08 to 1-07.

The visitors' intentions for the second period were signalled within 20 seconds of the restart with Domhnaill Flynn scoring a huge point to level matters before Beirne's 45 edged Leitrim back in front, the same player's two subsequent frees leaving the Connacht mean 1-11 to 1-08 up by the 45th minute.

Derry responded by introducing Shane McGuigan and the Slaughtneil's mean impact was instant, holding off three defenders to hit the net from close range after Ryan Bell had done well to recycle a high ball Leitrim keeper McKiernan couldn't hold.

That levelled things once more at 2-08 to 1-11 but almost immediately Beirne edged his side back in front with his eighth free of a very productive afternoon, Shane Moran then extending the lead to 1-13 to 2-08 with his third of the day.

McGuigan replied with a lovely free but entering the final 10 minutes, Leitrim still led and it was an advantage extended by Beirne's ninth score of the afternoon which left two between them.

That set up the grandstand finish. 

McCarron's and McFaul's points could have been the catalyst for a scarcely deserved victory for the hosts but no sooner were Derry level than Leitrim shut up shop once more.

Derry had struggled to break it down all evening and couldn't manage it in injury time.

Leitrim were celebrating at the final whistle but it was Derry who should be the more relieved. Leagues are never decided on opening weeks but there is plenty of work to do for the Ulster side.  

Derry: Odhran Lynch, Conor McCluskey, Padraig McGrogan, Liam McGoldrick, Brendan Rogers, Chrissy McKaigue (0-01), Conor Doherty, Gavin O'Neill, Emmett Bradley (1-02, 0-02f), Eoghan Duffy (0-01), Danny Tallon, Ciaran McFaul (0-01), Ben McCarron (0-01), Ryan Bell (0-02, 0-01f), Christopher Bradley.

Subs: Shane McGuigan (1-01, 0-01f) for C Bradley, 41mins; Niall Toner for G O'Neill, 53mins; Niall Keenan for L McGoldrick, 55mins; Alex Doherty for E Duffy, 60mins; Carlus McWilliams for C Doherty, 65mins;

Leitrim: Diarmuid McKiernan, Conor Reynolds, Fergal McTague, Paddy Maguire, Aidan Flynn, Jack Gilheaney, Cillian McGlion (1-00), Donal Wrynn, Shane Moran (0-03), Shane Quinn, Dean McGovern, Domhaill Flynn (0-01), Oisin McCaffrey, Darragh Rooney (0-01), Keith Beirne (0-09, 0-07f).

Subs: Oisin McLaughlin for O McCaffrey, 53mins;  Riordan O'Rourke for C McGloin, 68mins; David Bruen for D McGovern, 70mins; 

Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)