Armagh looked to be negotiating a comfortable path into a McKenna Cup semi-final against Donegal on Wednesday night when they led by 1-8 to 0-5 at the interval at the Athletic Grounds yesterday before threatening to take a firmer grip on the game immediately after the break.
But any notion that the home side might enter the comfort zone was dramatically dispelled when Derry substitute James Kielt roared into action by landing five superb points and setting the stage for a tense finish in which Armagh just managed to scramble over the line.
Andrew Murnin's first-half goal had embellished Armagh's early superiority and indeed Kieran McGeeney's side, with skipper Rory Grugan and man of the match Aidan Forker very much to the fore, looked as if they might glide to victory.
But Kielt's stunning finishing burst - he landed four of the five unanswered points his side scored between the 58th and 70th minutes - changed the complexion of the contest.
Instead of an anticipated cruise to victory, Armagh were forced to rely on points in added time from Niall Rowland and Aaron Findon to remain in the hunt for a first McKenna Cup success since 1994.
SCORERS - Armagh: R Grugan 0-5 (3fs); A Murnin 1-1; M Stevenson 0-3; N Rowland, C Vernon 0-2 each; A Findon, A Forker 0-1 each. Derry: J Kielt 0-5 (4fs); M Lynch 0-2 (1f); R Mooney, P Hagan (f), C McFaul, C McAtamney, E Lynn and N Toner 0-1 each.
Armagh - B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P Hughes; N Rowland, G McCabe, M Shields; S Sheridan, C Vernon; B Crealey, A Forker, R McShane; R Grugan, A Murnin, E Rafferty. Subs: R Lappin for Crealey (5), M Stevenson for Rafferty (18), B Donaghy for Burns (h-t), M McKenna for Forker (63), A Duffy for Grugan (63), A Findon for Murnin (BC 66).
Derry - B McKinless; C McCluskey, M McEvoy, R Mooney; P Coney, M Bateson, L McGoldrick; C McAtamney, J Doherty; E Lynn, N Toner, C McFaul; C Doherty, M Lynch, P Hagan. Subs: P Kearney for Bateson (44), J Kielt for Lynch (44), F Higgins for Doherty (54).
Ref - M McNally (Monaghan)