All Ireland SFC Qualifier Round 2B
ARMAGH 1-12 WESTMEATH 1-7
By Kevin Egan at TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar
A late goal from Ethan Rafferty wrapped up an incredibly dramatic qualifier victory for Armagh over Westmeath as the Orchard County survived a stern test of their credentials in a fiercely contested and occasionally fractious contest at TEG Cusack Park.
Gregory McCabe’s sending off with 15 minutes to play left the Ulster county operating with just fourteen men for the closing stages and when Alan Gaughan pointed for Westmeath to draw the sides level with just over five minutes to play, all the smart money would have been on a home win.
However, a series of bad wides from Paul Sharry, Callum McCormack and John Heslin kept Armagh in the hunt and they struck on the break for two late points, either side of Rafferty’s decisive goal.
After shipping a 31 point defeat to Dublin at Croke Park in their most recent outing, the first question was whether Westmeath would mentally be ready for the challenge that a physically powerful Armagh side would be sure to offer.
However, any thoughts of a lethargic start to the contest were blown out of the water when an off the ball incident involving Jamie Gonoud and Jamie Clarke saw the Armagh attacker receive a black card in the first minute of the tie, which immediately raised the already warm temperature in the Mullingar stadium.
Two quick points from John Heslin got Westmeath out to a fast start and put Armagh on the back foot even further, but the Orchard men soon settled into the tie, inspired by a superb block from Aaron McKay to deny Heslin a possible goal.
Some excellent long range shooting from Stefan Campbell and Gavin McParland edged the visitors in front, and while their combative approach to the game meant that their dominance didn’t translate to scores as much as they would have liked, due to the concession of a huge number of frees at both ends of the field, they still offered more of a threat going forward and worked their way into a four point lead by the half hour mark.
In a tight game, however, a goal was always likely to be a decisive score and it came Westmeath’s way immediately before half time, Paul Sharry slamming the ball into the net after Frank Boyle’s initial effort was well saved by Blaine Hughes.
Another Heslin free sent the sides into the dressing rooms level, and Westmeath maintained that momentum with the first two points of the second half. Armagh dug their heels in again however and while their foul count continued to mount –39 in total – they took advantage of Westmeath’s inaccuracy to draw level through two excellent points from Rory Grugan and Aidan Forker.
Westmeath started to take control of the battle at midfield following McCabe’s dismissal, aided by a strong showing from substitute Alan Gaughan, but they continued to struggle in front of the posts and fell behind again, before Gaughan equalised to set up a dramatic finale, punctuated by Rafferty’s stunning finish.
Scorers for Armagh: E Rafferty 1-0, R Grugan 0-3 (2fs), S Campbell, G McParland, O O’Neill 0-2 each, N Grimley (f), A Forker and S Sheridan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Westmeath: J Heslin 0-6 (4fs), P Sharry 1-0, 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 (1 – bc), G McCabe for Morgan (18 – bc), O O’Neill for Duffy (44), M Shields for McKay (44), C McKeever for McParland (56), E Rafferty for O’Hanlon (63).
WESTMEATH: D Quinn; M McCallon, K Maguire, J Gonoud; J Dolan, F Boyle, D Lynch; G Egan, S Duncan; J Egan, P Sharry, K Reilly; K Daly, K Martin, J Heslin.
Subs: T McDaniel for Egan (27), C McCormack for Martin (30 – blood), McCormack for Reilly (54), A Stone for Duncan (55), N Mulligan for Lynch (60), A Gaughan for Egan (66 – bc), A Gardiner for McCallon (66 – bc).
REFEREE: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry).