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Substitutes' late blitz drags Armagh over the line

Armagh 1-12 Westmeath 1-7 - TEG Cusack Park

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney. Photo: Sportsfile
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney. Photo: Sportsfile

independent.ie Sportsdesk

A late scoring blitz by a trio of substitutes saw Armagh home in a bruising qualifier last night. Ethan Rafferty banged in a goal, and there were points from Stefan Campbell and Oisin O'Neill.

Westmeath restored pride following their Leinster semi-final mauling by Dublin by facing down the Orchard men with a courageous, battling display, but in the end their finishing let them down.

Armagh lost two key players to black cards inside the opening quarter, ace attacker Jamie Clarke walking after less than a minute, followed by his Crossmaglen clubmate James Morgan on 17 minutes. But they recovered from a shaky start to go in front with two superb Gavin McParland scores and a Niall Grimley free. Westmeath had gone ahead with two points from John Heslin, who was also denied a goal by Aaron McKay's perfectly timed tackle.

Stephen Sheridan and Grimley gave the Orchard an edge around midfield, and they shot four on the spin early in the second quarter, with McParland firing over another special, and skipper Rory Grugan converting a couple of frees.

At 0-7 to 0-3, the Ulster men appeared to have exerted a measure of control on the contest, but on the half-hour, the home side crafted a goal.

Heslin, Mark McCallon and Paul Sharry moved the ball quickly through the hands, and Frank Boyle got a shot away. Blaine Hughes pulled off a splendid save but Sharry followed up to net from the rebound.

A Heslin free, his fourth score, levelled it at 1-4 to 0-7 in stoppage-time, and he had his side two ahead soon after the restart. However, Westmeath were punished for sloppy defending, with Grugan and Aidan Forker capitalising on turnovers as the Ulster men went level again. For a second time, Heslin was kept out as he went for goal, 'keeper Blaine Hughes keeping out his firmly struck shot.

Armagh were reduced to 14 men when substitute Gregory McCabe, who had already been booked, was black-carded in the 55th minute, but they went back in front when substitute O'Neill charged through to score.

The loss of the excellent John Egan to a black card was a blow to Westmeath, but his replacement Alan Gaughan shot the lead point with three minutes to play. Then came the Armagh deluge.

Scorers - Armagh: E Rafferty 1-0, R Grugan (2f), G McParland 0-3 each, O O'Neill 0-2, N Grimley (f), S Sheridan, A Forker, S Campbell 0-1 each. Westmeath: P Sharry 1-0, J Heslin 0-6 (4f), A Gaughan 0-1.

Armagh: B Hughes; A McKay, C Vernon, P Hughes; A Forker, B Donaghy, J Morgan; S Sheridan, N Grimley; C O'Hanlon, A Duffy, R Grugan; J Clarke, A Murnin, G McParland. Subs: S Campbell for Clarke (BC 1), G McCabe for Morgan (BC 18), M Shields for McKay (44), O O'Neill for Duffy (44), C McKeever for McParland (56), E Rafferty for O'Hanlon (65).

Westmeath: D Quinn; M McCallion, K Maguire, J Gonoud; D Lynch, F Boyle, J Dolan; P Sharry, G Egan; J Egan, K Martin, S Duncan; K Reilly, J Heslin, K Daly. Subs: T McDaniel for G Egan (27), C McCormack for Reilly (54), A Stone for Duncan (55), N Mulligan for Lynch (59) A Gardiner for McCallon (BC 65), A Gaughan for J Egan (BC 65).

Referee: P O'Sullivan (Kerry).

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