Down on their luck

March 25, 2013

● Allianz Football league Division II: Westmeath 0-17 ARmagh 0-16

Armagh management and players must be wondering what they have done wrong as “the rub of the green” has deserted them in this current National League Campaign. For the third match in a row, with the team set for a very good result, as the games entered added on time they suffered cruel twists which what could have been promotion hopes turned into a very possible relegation to Division Three.

At Cusack Park, Mullingar in their penultimate game against undefeated table toppers Westmeath, the gutsy visitors who paraded the walking wounded from previous weeks were full value for at the very least a draw but an added time converted free from midfielder John Heslin edged Westmeath 17-16 ahead. Orchard County top scorer on the day Aaron Kernan with 0-7 was wide from a 30 metre free with the second last kick of the afternoon to condemn Armagh to a second successive last gasp defeat following the smash and grab by Louth the previous week.

Ironically Louth and Wexford, who pilfered 3 points from visits to the Athletic Grounds, are the two teams that Armagh will be hoping to pass on the last day, Sunday April 7 to avoid relegation to Division Three. Armagh entertain Galway on that day. The Tribesmen kept their feint promotion hopes alive by beating Wexford 1-16 to 0-11 so still have something to play for. But while the fate of Paul Grimley and his charges depends firstly on a home win all Orchard followers will be hoping that Armagh All-Ireland medal winner Justin McNulty will do his native county a huge benefit by leading his promotion chasing Laois charges to victory over Wexford. Louth are at home to already relegated Longford while Westmeath who have successfully returned back to Division One after a 5 year absence following the win over Armagh go to Celtic Park where a win for hosts Derry will give them promotion.

Armagh, who were wind assisted for the opening half at Cusack Park, made 5 changes to the midweek selected team as Ciaran McKeever, Aaron Kernan and Kevin Dyas who missed the last game through injury returned and were joined by Kieran Toner and Brian Mallon in the starting 15. It was Armagh who opened the scoring 2 minutes in through Stefan Forker and the Maghery man added four more points to a first half haul of  5 just one better than the 4 from Aaron Kernan whose brother Tony took the Orchard total to 10 as they led by double scores 0-10 to 0-5 at the short whistle. Callum McCormack levelled at 1-1 for Laois before Tony Kernan regained the lead for the visitors. The influential Denis Glennon fisted a point followed by a free from Kieran Martin as Laois went ahead only for Aaron to restore parity at 3-3 after 12 minutes. Late late hero Heslin pointed the hosts in front but Aaron levels before Forker points a free following a foul on Hanratty and then Aaron scores from play from long range. Glennon slips inside the defence beats McEvoy with a low drive but the ball grazes the wrong side of the upright for a let off for Armagh. McCormack and Forker exchange points as Mark Shields came into the Armagh defence as Hanratty made way. Armagh finished the half with 3 unanswered points to forge a sizeable interval lead.

Westmeath were not the form team of the division for nothing and inside 6 minutes of the restart the Lake County were level at 10 all. Martin, Glennon, McCormack, Glennon and then Egan blasted cover an equalizer that could have gone under the crossbar. Armagh, to their credit, recovered from this early second half onslaught as Aaron Kernan with a brace of frees put them back in the lead. Westmeath manager Pat Flanagan responded by introducing veteran Dessie Dolan who made an instant impact. After Heslin reduced the deficit to the bare minimum Dolan weighed in with 2 points in a minute to give the home support plenty to cheer about. A free against Caolan Rafferty is punished on the scoreboard  by Heslin as Grimley introduces Charlie Vernon and James Donnelly to the fray. Armagh rallied in fine style as Aaron, Vernon and midfielder Harold all hit points to put the Orchard in front 0-15 to 0-14 with 14 minutes left on the clock. Glennon levelled before a monster free from Heslin off the top of the crossbar edged the hosts, who only needed a draw for promotion, back in the lead. Forker is in one on one with the keeper but elects to take a leveling point with the home crowd quite satisfied with that outcome. The tension mounts as Aaron is wide for the first time from a very acute angle followed by wides from the two Dolans. Westmeath Captain Kieran Gavin plays his part as he dispossesses Gavin McParland baring down on goal, goalkeeper Connaughton gathers the ball and launches it downfield. A foul on Egan is moved forward for dissent and Heslin made no mistake with the match winning point.

There is no denying but Armagh deserved something in return for this very gutsy performance not to be left facing a second successive relegation scenario.

Armagh- P McEvoy, F.Moriarty, B Donaghy, D McKenna, A Kernan (0-7), C McKeever, K Dyas, K.Toner, S Harrold (0-1), C Rafferty, J Hannraty, B Mallon,T Kernan (0-1), S Forker (0-7), G McPartland Subs- M Shields for Hanratty, C Vernon (0-1) for  Mallon, Donnelly for McKenna