Clarke's cutting edge sees off Wicklow
The beautiful Croghan Mountains provided a fitting backdrop for the what could be the final chapter of the glorious Mick O'Dwyer odyssey in front of a crowd of 6,500.
Rain drizzled down for much of the game, making conditions less than ideal but with a place in Round 3 of the qualifier draw at stake, against Tyrone, both teams tore at each other with gusto from the start.
Ultimately, however, Wicklow didn't possess the potency up front to progress further and had Armagh converted a fraction of their 14 wides they would have been more comfortable winners. Even the most reliable of free-takers Tony Hannon lost his way in the second half as his team ran up five wides in a key period.
On the other hand, Armagh can thank Jamie Clarke for having the assurance in attack to score their crucial goals. He didn't see much of the ball but when he did he made it count.
Wicklow were clueless when threatening the opposition goal. There was no penetration and lateral passing won't work in such slippy conditions.
We'll have to see what Micko does next but his time in Wicklow is at an end. He'll be disappointed to bow out on such a note. He had the team well motivated for this one and indeed the tone was set very early on when dual star Stephen 'Chester' Kelly floored Stevie McDonnell, who withdrew to centre forward from the start, with a stomach-churning shoulder. McDonnell was clearly winded, but got up, dusted himself down and proceeded to play an integral role in his team's attacking prowess.
As usual, Wicklow looked to Leighton Glynn and Tony Hannon for scores and while Seanie Furlong was kept relatively quiet in the opening scenes, Paul Earls stepped up with a couple of fine scores. Wicklow tried to isolate Glynn, Earls and Furlong in their full- forward line.
James Stafford was passed fit although it was clear he was hampered by an ankle injury. He didn't repeat the heroics of last weekend's display but still he provided a calming presence in the engine room.
Armagh, however, had to play without their influential centre-back Ciaran McKeever and instead put Tony Kernan into the number six shirt. Despite this upset, they started quickly with two Micheal O'Rourke points. The Ulster side, backed by a small but loyal army of supporters, could have extended that lead, but instead hit three wides in quick succession.
Sensing blood, Wicklow rapidly fired 0-4 on the trot from Earls and Glynn.
Hannon fired a brace of points from the placed ball as the home team looked to be getting a grip on the game. In fact, their defence was on top until Armagh broke free for a goal after 19 minutes. Aaron Kernan started a good move with a quick free, the ball was moved down the flanks and Jamie Clarke, out of the game until now, did well to evade a few tackles and unload a shot. It was a harmless enough effort but deceived John Flynn in the Wicklow goal and found the back of the net.
The sides were level for the third time in this tense encounter after five minutes of the restart after Hannon pointed another free before Glynn sent over a tasty effort minutes later.
The crowd really came to life in the second half and there was a nervous energy all around the compact county grounds. But the home fires were quenched somewhat, however, when Armagh's terrible twins, O'Rourke and Clarke combined for their second goal after 45 minutes.
O'Rourke broke up the right wing, floated a lovely cross-field ball into Malachy Machin, who fell and released the ball to Clarke, the poacher supreme who hit his second goal of the night despite seeing so little of the possession.
It left the Ulstermen 2-5 to 0-8 ahead with 20 minutes left. Stevie McDonnell moved in for another point moments later. The pendulum had swung and once more all of Wicklow's will and resources would be tested.
Eventually, Austin O'Malley soothed their nerves by raising a white flag, pulling the deficit back to three points again.
Inch by inch Armagh began to exert authority, gradually pulled away and now progress to meet Tyrone. But last night was all about Micko. Wherever he goes is his own business but he won't be too far away -- that's for sure.
Scorers -- Armagh: J Clarke (2-1) M O'Rourke (0-3), S McDonnell (0-2, 1f), P Duffy (0-1), A Kernan (0-1f), G McParland (0-1) Wicklow: T Hannon (0-3, 2f, 1'45), P Earls (0-2), L Glynn (0-2), S Furlong (0-2), A O'Malley (0-1)
Armagh: P Hearty; A Mallon, B Donaghy, P Duffy; A Kernan, T Kernan, F Moriarty; J Lavery, C Vernon, K Dyas; S McDonnell, J Hanratty; M O'Rourke, M Mackin, J Clarke. Subs: BJ Padden for J Hanratty (52), G McParland for T Kernan (57), D McKenna for P Duffy (57), V Martin for F Moriarty (60), C Watters for M O'Rourke (69)
Wicklow: J Flynn; C Hyland, A Byrne, S Kelly; A McLoughlin, B McGrath, D Hayden; J Stafford, R Finn, A O'Malley; T Hannon, N Mernagh; P Earls, S Furlong, L Glynn. Subs: C McGraynor for N Mernagh (20), P Dalton for A McLoughlin (54)
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)
Sunday Indo Sport