Clarke's goals give Armagh edge over wasteful Wicklow
Armagh 2-17 Wicklow 2-7
A ten-point win left many questions unanswered for an Armagh side that received a generous shove towards this morning's Round 2 Qualifier draw from their wasteful opponents.
The unpalatable truth about this peculiar tie at the Athletic Grounds is that Wicklow could have won it had they had a reliable marksman.
Had they possessed a place-kicker within their ranks, they would certainly have run the Orchard men a lot closer.
Despite missing eight scoreable frees, the Garden County trailed by just two points going into the final ten minutes.
A major shock was put beyond them by Jamie Clarke's two late goals, the quality of the strikes serving to mask problems that they will need to address ahead of their next stop on the back door route.
Wicklow failed to score in the opening quarter, despite creating openings and winning frees off a nervy Armagh defence.
Andrew Murnin and Caolan Rafferty were on target, along with Clarke, who swung over a couple of superb scores, taking on marker Aaron Murphy at every opportunity.
Darren Hayden finally opened the Garden County account with a 19th-minute point, but they were being ripped open at the back by swift Armagh counter-attacking.
The Orchard men created three first-half goal chances, with Robert Lambert saving smartly from Tony Kernan and Clarke's measured cross fisted just wide by Micheal McKenna.
But it was Wicklow who were first to hit the net, John McGrath exploiting a slip by Brendan Donaghy to collect Hayden's half-blocked cross and beat Matthew McNeice from close range in the 25th minute.
Armagh recovered to fire over four quality points, including Clarke's fourth from play, to lead by 0-9 to 1-2 at the break.
Despite their difficulties with placed-ball offerings, Wicklow shaded the third quarter, with Paul Cronin hitting three points to take them to within two of the home side.
And when substitute James Stafford half-volleyed home a goal with his first touch, the deficit was down to a single point with 15 minutes left to play.
But Armagh found an extra gear, and two long-range specials from Ethan Rafferty set them up nicely for Clarke's late goal rush.
First he darted past two defenders to drill the ball to the net in the 64th minute, before finishing a more straightforward chance, thanks to McKenna's unselfish assist.
Game at a glance
Man of the match: Jamie Clarke (Armagh)
Talking point: A county team taking the field without a recognised place-kicker is unheard of in the modern game. It cost Wicklow the opportunity to cause a major upset, with eight scoreable frees squandered over the 70 minutes.
Magic moment: Jamie Clarke’s first goal was worth the admission price alone. He cut in from the right, danced past two defenders and planted the ball past Robert Lambert to effectively settle the outcome five minutes from time.
Ref watch: Eddie Kinsella had a solid game on a day of few controversial incidents, one double booking early on presenting him with his only opportunity to produce cards. He frustrated both sides, particularly Wicklow, with his puzzling use of the advantage rule.
What’s next? Armagh await this morning’s Round 2 draw knowing they must become more clinical and disciplined at the back. The return of skipper Ciaran McKeever will add steel and leadership in vital areas. It’s the end of the 2015 road for Wicklow, but they will take heart from their visit to the Athletic Grounds where they threatened to shock the Orchard men in their own back yard.