Armagh 'pick themselves off floor' to edge out Westmeath with late surge
Armagh 1-12 Westmeath 1-7
A breakaway goal in the fifth minute of added-time from sub Ethan Rafferty was the key score as Armagh defeated Westmeath by a flattering five-point margin in a nasty qualifier.
It was a bad-tempered encounter from start to finish in Mullingar on Saturday evening, with the Ulster men playing out the final 20 minutes a man down following Gregory McCabe's dismissal.
There were also four black cards dished out, the first to Armagh's marquee forward Jamie Clarke for a foul committed after just 15 seconds; his team-mate James Morgan was dismissed at the end of the first quarter.
Both of Westmeath's black cards (Mark McCallon and John Egan) came late in the contest.
After receiving a 31-point hammering at the hands of Dublin in the Leinster semi-final, 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. Paul Sharry's goal on the half-hour mark, after Frank Boyle's initial shot had been saved by Blaine Hughes, and a free in injury-time by Heslin drew Westmeath level by the interval (0-7 to 1-4).
Soon after the change of ends, two more Heslin points nudged Westmeath ahead, but the Orchard County men equalised with fine scores from Rory Grugan and Aidan Forker. The sides were still level when Hughes did very well to keep out a Heslin shot in the 54th minute.
Shortly afterwards, Kieran McGeeney's troops lost McCabe to a second yellow card.
A point from substitute Alan Gaughan tied up the scoring at 0-10 to 1-7 in the 68th minute and Tom Cribbin's men now looked the more likely winners as they began to dominate the middle third, with Armagh packing their defence.
However, some wasteful shooting was to prove costly with Sharry and Heslin (a 45-metre free) both missing very good opportunities to edge their team ahead.
Armagh's use of the bench was significant and three subs scored the match-winning 1-2 in added-time.
Oisin O'Neill and Stefan Campbell pointed, either side of a goal at the end of a counter-attack finished by Rafferty, sparking celebrations among the large Armagh contingent in the crowd of 5,012.
McGeeney's right-hand man Paddy McKeever said: "We weren't at our best today but all we wanted was a win. These boys got a lot of stick after the defeat to Down and they have picked themselves off the floor.
"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, and exhausted. But the spirit was great."
Cribbin clearly realised that his side had let their chances slip.
"It's fierce disappointing," he said, "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.
"We had a bad day at the office against Dublin but I knew they would bounce back today. There's an awful lot of character in the side."
Scorers - Armagh: E Rafferty 1-0, R Grugan (2fs), G McParland 0-3 each, O O'Neill 0-2, S Campbell, N Grimley (f), A Forker, S Sheridan 0-1 each. Westmeath: J Heslin 0-6 (4fs), P Sharry 1-0, A Gaughan 0-1.
ARMAGH - B Hughes 7; A McKay 5, C Vernon 6, P Hughes 6; A Forker 8, B Donaghy 7, J Morgan n/r; S Sheridan 7, N Grimley 7; C O'Hanlon 7, A Duffy 6, R Grugan 7; J Clarke n/r, A Murnin 6, G McParland 7. Subs: S Campbell 7 for Clarke (2, BC), G McCabe 5 for Morgan (18, BC), O O'Neill 7 for Duffy (44), M Shields 6 for McKay (44, inj.), C McKeever 6 for McParland (56), E Rafferty 7 for O'Hanlon (63).
WESTMEATH - D Quinn 6; M McCallon 7, K Maguire 6, J Gonoud 7; J Dolan 6, F Boyle 6, D Lynch 5; G Egan 6, S Duncan 6; J Egan 7, P Sharry 6, K Reilly 5; K Daly 7, K Martin 6, J Heslin 7. Subs: T McDaniel 6 for G Egan (27, inj.), C McCormack 5 for Reilly (54), A Stone 5 for Duncan (55), N Mulligan 5 for Lynch (60), A Gaughan 7 for Egan (66, BC), A Gardiner 6 for McCallon (66, BC).
Ref - P O'Sullivan (Kerry).
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