Jamie Clarke the difference as Armagh see off gutsy Wicklow side
Armagh 2-17 Wicklow 2-7
It was a lot closer than the scoreline suggests, but two moments of magic from Jamie Clarke was the difference as Armagh booked their place in Round two of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers.
Wicklow sub James Stafford busted the net in the 56th minute to bring the unfancied visitors to within a point of Armagh in the Athletic Grounds.
The home side reeled off an unanswered 2-2 in the closing stages to steady the nerves, with Ethan Rafferty nailing a '45' and landing a long-range point.
Clarke then hit two goals in the last five minutes, finishing with a total of 2-4 from play, after creating both goal chances out of nothing.
Wicklow played much better than predicted, but poor free-taking hurt them with eight missed frees during the game.
In front of 6,058, Armagh were forced to field without injured captain Ciaran McKeever but hardly missed him as they breezed into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead after 16 minutes.
The home side should have been further in front but missed three goals in the opening quarter.
The misses were the big talking point – Wicklow missed eight frees and tried four different free-takers tried with little success.
Yet somehow, against the run of play, John McGrath's scruffy goal after 25 minutes helped draw them level.
Brendan Donaghy spilled an easy catch in the square and the forward pounced, his scuffed shot bouncing into the far corner of the net.
A minute later, Paul Cronin converted their only free-kick of the first half to draw them level at 0-5 to 1-2 to stun the home supporters.
Armagh scored four unanswered points, all from play, to lead by 0-9 to 1-2 at half-time.
Wicklow scored three of the first four points after the break and although Armagh hit a purple patch with four of the next five points, Stafford's goal against the run of play set up a grandstand finish.
Clarke wriggled free from several defenders to score at the near post after 65 minutes and tagged on a second late on to seal Armagh's third win in the qualifiers over Wicklow in the last five years.
ARMAGH: M McNeice; M Murray, C Vernon, S Connell; A Mallon, B Donaghy, J Morgan; C Rafferty (0-2), E Rafferty (0-4, 1f, 1 '45'); A Forker (0-1), M McKenna (0-3), T Kernan; S Campbell (0-1), A Murnin (0-2), J Clarke (2-4)
Subs: M McConville for Connell (53), D McKenna for Forker (53), C O'Hanlon for Kernan (60), S Forker for Campbell (69), G McParland for Murnin (70)
WICKLOW: R Lambert; C Hyland (0-1), R O'Brien, A Murphy; D Healy, P McLoughlin, M Kenny; A McLoughlin, D Woods; D Hayden (0-1), S Kelly, N Gaffney; P Cronin (0-4, 1f), T Kelly, J McGrath (1-0)
Subs: C McGraynor (0-1) for Gaffney (HT), P McWalter for Kenny (HT), J Stafford (1-0) for Woods (55), D Odlum for McGrath (56), P Cunningham for T Kelly (58), B McCrea for Cronin (66)
REFEREE: Eddie Kinsella (Laois)