WITH the league's new format making the competition more important than ever, Derry manager Paddy Crozier summed up the importance of his side's opening round win saying "The McKenna Cup is gone. I would rather have those two points tonight than what Ross Carr has at home."
Derry lost the final of the Ulster tournament to Down, but on a freezing Saturday in Celtic Park, the home side got off to a winning start in the league after being pushed all the way by Mayo.
A gale force wind blowing down the pitch made it very difficult to play constructive football. At the turnaround, Derry had set a target of 1-8 to Mayo's 0-2.
In the end, the Oak Leaf men snuck a goal against the wind through Mark Lynch and that proved to be the crucial score of the match. However, Crozier denied that it was a case of job done after Lynch's strike.
"With gale force wind you never feel comfortable. You have to keep plugging away but I suppose we went seven or eight points up. In fairness to Mayo, they should have got two goals in the second half when they hit the crossbar and fair play to the goalkeeper he got his hand to one of them."
Despite the home side's nine-point cushion at the break, Mayo started the second half in impressive fashion. The lively Andy Moran and Alan Dillon hit points before Conor Mortimer opened his account with a free. Dillon added another placed ball before Lynch's goal came against the run of play.
However, Mayo battled back and goaled through Mortimer, who scrambled the ball to the net from close range after a Dillon point attempt had dropped short. The Shrule man followed up with a superb point and the revival looked to be on.
However, Lady Luck abandoned Mayo from there as they hit the bar twice in the closing 10 minutes. Peadar Gardiner was first to rattle the woodwork after a sweeping move before Andy Moran saw his effort tipped on to the bar by an excellent John Deighan save.
For John O'Mahony, the Mayo rebuilding process goes on. He took solace in the fact that they had closed the gap between the sides after Derry's 2-13 to 1-6 win in the championship last July.
"I'm disappointed with the result because when you look back on the game it certainly was possible that we could have taken something out of it," he said.
"I'm disappointed for the lads too in that they put in a huge second half and worked very hard in the first half as well. We have to take the positives from it, even though we're not into moral victories in any sense at all, but at least we closed the gulf a little bit from when we played here in the summer. But it's still disappointing."
With three players making their national league debuts (Chris Barrett, Seamus O'Shea and Michael Mullins) O'Mahony was pleased with the spirit his side showed.
"Individually certain players stepped up to the plate. We had a few fellas making their debuts and to make it on a cold windy Saturday night isn't easy and hopefully Mayo will get the benefit of that down the line."
However, he did think that there could have been more injury-time played as his side laid siege to the Derry goal in the final few minutes.
"There are lots of things we could talk about. The fact that we hit the crossbar twice ... we would have felt that there was way more injury- time than three minutes. I'm not a crank and I have great respect for John Bannon as a referee, but I thought there would be at least five or six minutes extra-time.
"The play was held up an awful lot and there seemed like a couple of minutes at every kick out ... but we just have to go forward and plan from here and see where it takes us."
SCORERS -- Derry: P Bradley 0-5 (4f), M Lynch 1-1, C Devlin 1-0, C Mullan 0-2 (1f), E Muldoon 0-1. Mayo: C Mortimer 1-2 (1f), A Dillon 0-2 (2f), A Moran 0-2, A O'Malley, C Barrett, M Mullins 0-1each.
Derry -- J Deighan; R Dillon, F McEldowney, K McGuckian; L Hinphey, M McBride, J Keenan; F Doherty, J Conway; M Lynch, B McGoldrick, E Muldoon; C Devlin, P Bradley, C Mullan SUBS: M McIvor for Dillon (23 mins), C O'Kane for McGoldrick (55 mins), R Wilkinson for Keenan (67 mins), E Lynn for Devlin (68 mins).
Mayo -- D Clarke; C Moran, BJ Padden, L O'Malley; C Barrett, T Howley, K Higgins; S O'Shea, P Gardiner; J Gill, A Dillon, M Mullins; C Mortimer, A O'Malley, A Moran SUBS: T Cunniffe for C Moran (h-t), Davids Heaney for Gill (h-t), T Parsons for Padden (55 mins)
Ref -- J Bannon (Longford)