Armagh 1-12 Westmeath 1-7
An injury-time goal by substitute Ethan Rafferty propelled Armagh to a flattering five-point win against a profligate Westmeath outfit in what was a free-ridden All-Ireland SFC qualifier match in Mullingar on Saturday.
This was a bad-tempered encounter with the Ulster men playing out the final 20 minutes with 14 men following Gregory McCabe's dismissal, in addition to which four black cards were issued, the first of them to marquee Armagh forward, Jamie Clarke, for a foul committed after just 15 seconds.
After receiving a 31-point hammering at the hands of Dublin, Westmeath needed a bright start and a brace of early points from John Heslin settled them before the same player almost got through for a goal.
However, the wind-assisted visitors gradually took control and they led by 0-7 to 0-3 after 29 minutes, three of their points coming from play by Gavin McParland. A Paul Sharry goal on the half-hour mark and a converted free in injury-time by Heslin drew Westmeath level by the interval.
The sides were still on level terms (0-9 to 1-6) when Blaine Hughes did very well to keep out a Heslin goal attempt in the 54th minute. Soon afterwards, Kieran McGeeney’s troops lost McCabe when he picked up his second yellow card.
The sides were tied (0-10 to 1-7) at the end of normal time and Tom Cribbin’s men looked the more likely winners, but some wasteful shooting was to prove very costly.
Armagh’s use of the bench was significant and three substitutes scored the match-winning 1-2 in added-time. Oisin O’Neill and
pointed, either side of a breakaway goal finished with aplomb by Ethan Rafferty, sparking joyous celebrations among the very large Armagh contingent in the crowd of 5,012.
McGeeney’s right-hand man, Paddy McKeever, handled the post-match interviews. The 2002 All-Ireland winner stated: “We weren’t at our best today but all we wanted was a win, and coming here to Mullingar was never going to be easy. These boys got a lot of stick after the defeat to Down and they have picked themselves up off the floor since. A nine-point win against Fermanagh probably flattered us.
“Today, they could have packed it in with a quarter of an hour left, when everything seemed to be going against them – down to 14 men, personnel missing, and exhausted. But the spirit was great and the effort was very smart in the end. We have a week now to try and keep things fresh.”
At the other end of the corridor, Cribbin clearly realised that his side had let the chance of a significant scalp get away.
“It’s fierce disappointing,” he opined, before adding, “a lot of the chances we missed at crucial times fell to lads we would be very comfortable giving the ball to and they were kicking from very good positions as well. Unfortunately, they didn’t go over for them today. We had a bad day at the office against Dublin, but the lads moved on and I knew they would bounce back today. There’s an awful lot of character in the side.”
ARMAGH: B Hughes; A McKay, C Vernon, P Hughes; A Forker (0-1), B Donaghy, J Morgan; S Sheridan (0-1), N Grimley (0-1, free); C O'Hanlon, A Duffy, R Grugan (0-3, two frees); J Clarke, A Murnin, G McParland (0-3). Subs: S Campbell (0-1) for Clarke (BC, 2 mins), G McCabe for Morgan (BC, 20 mins), M Shields for McKay (45 mins), O O'Neill (0-2) for Duffy (45 mins), C McKeever for McParland (57 mins), E Rafferty (1-0) for O'Hanlon (64 mins). WESTMEATH: D Quinn; M McCallon, K Maguire, J Gonoud; D Lynch, F Boyle, J Dolan; P Sharry (1-0), G Egan; J Egan, K Martin, S Duncan; K Reilly, J Heslin (0-6, four frees), K Daly. Subs: T McDaniel for G Egan (28 mins), C McCormack for Reilly (55 mins), A Stone for Duncan (56 mins), N Mulligan for Lynch (60 mins) A Gardiner for McCallon (BC, 66 mins), A Gaughan (0-1) for J Egan (BC, 67 mins). Referee: Pádraig O'Sullivan.