Clarke adds gloss to punish wasteful Wicklow
Armagh 2-17 Wicklow 2-7
Two late Jamie Clarke goals cast a cruel reflection on Wicklow's brave effort at the Athletic Grounds.
Johnny Magee's men pushed Armagh all the way, and had they had a reliable place-kicker, could well have pulled off a major shock.
Eight scoreable frees were missed, yet the side that finished bottom of Division 4 were just two points in arrears with 10 minutes to play.
Clarke's magic applied a gloss to the scoreline, but crucially for Armagh, they have picked up the pieces from a crushing defeat to Donegal, and move on to tomorrow's Qualifier Round 2B draw.
Despite the loss of injured skipper Ciaran McKeever, Armagh controlled the game throughout the opening quarter, with Andrew Murnin, Jamie Clarke and Caolan Rafferty all firing over points to ease them into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead by the 17th minute.
Wicklow, with Daniel Woods working hard in midfield, and Dean Healy always ready to push from the back, had their moments as they played their way into the contest, but the absence of a reliable free-taker was a major issue for them as they racked up the wides.
It wasn't until the 19th minute that the visitors registered their first score, when Mark Kenny did the spade-work for Darren Hayden to drift in for a point.
But Aaron Murphy was always under pressure in trying to curtail the in-form Clarke, whose creativity was bettered only by his lethal finishing.
The Crossmaglen man steered over an incisive cross that almost produced a goal for Micheal McKenna, whose flying, fisted effort went just wide. That was one of three clear-cut goal chances created by the Orchard men in the first half, with goalkeeper Robert Lambert producing an excellent save to deny Tony Kernan.
But they conceded one in the 25th minute, when John McGrath gathered a loose ball to hit the net from close range, with Paul Cronin following up with a free to put them level.
However, they failed to build on the positive efforts of Woods and Dean Healy, allowing the home side to counter at pace and reel off four points towards the end of the half, including Clarke's fourth, to take a 0-9 to 1-2 lead into the interval.
Wicklow refused to buckle, and landed points through Cronin, with a rare free and a couple of superb efforts from play, while veteran defender Ciaran Hyland was also on target.
By the midway stage of the second half they were still just two points behind, and the home fans were growing restless and increasingly concerned.
Aidan Forker and McKenna, with his third, eased the pressure, but James Stafford came off the bench to make an immediate impact with a goal, struck on the half-volley from Hayden's delivery.
Their lead cut to a single point, Armagh stepped on the gas once again, with Ethan Rafferty firing over a couple of long-range points, and it was Clarke, with two delightful goals in the final 10 minutes, who sealed it. He danced past two defenders to plant the ball in the net on 65 minutes, and thanked McKenna for his unselfishness as he finished his second from close range.
Scorers - Armagh: J Clarke 2-4, E Rafferty 0-4 (1f, 1 '45), M McKenna 0-3, C Rafferty, A Murnin 0-2 each, A Forker, S Campbell 0-1 each; Wicklow: J McGrath, J Stafford 1-0 each, P Croinin 0-4 (2f), D Hayden, C Hyland, C McGraynor 0-1 each.
Armagh: M McNeice; M Murray, C Vernon, S Connell; A Mallon, B Donaghy, J Morgan; C Rafferty, E Rafferty; A Forker, M McKenna, T Kernan; S Campbell, A Murnin, J Clarke. Subs: M McConville for Connell (52), D McKenna for Forker (52), C O'Hanlon for Kernan (59), S Forker for Campbell (68), G McParland for Murnin (69)
Wicklow: R Lambert; C Hyland, R O'Brien, A Murphy; D Healy, P McLoughlin, M Kenny; A McLoughlin, D Woods; D Hayden, S Kelly, N Gaffney; P Cronin, T Kelly, J McGrath. Subs: C McGraynor for Gaffeney (h-t), P McWalter for Kenny (h-t), J Stafford for Woods (54), D Odlum for McGrath (56), P Cunningham for Kelly (57), B McCrea for Cronin (65)
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois)
Sunday Indo Sport