Job done – into next round

July 10, 2017

Qualifer Round 2 Westmeath 1-07 Armagh 1-12

It was far from the football spectacle that we all came to see but it was Championship knock-out football and the only thing that matters when the final whistle blows is the result-Armagh won and got their name in the hat for Monday morning’s third round draw against either Carlow, Donegal or Monaghan.

TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar was the setting for a first ever Championship meeting between Westmeath and Armagh. Following contrasting results in their last Championship outings Armagh had a home win over Fermanagh, whilst the hosts were beaten by the reigning champions Dublin by a whopping 31 points it was hard to know what sort of game that we were in for. Kerry referee Padsraig O’Sullivan was in the spotlight immediately following the throw-in as he was called over by his linesman to an off the ball incident involving Jamie Gonoud and Jamie Clarke. Incredibly the Armagh ace attacker was shown a Black card, normally when a linesman contacts the referee a player either gets a yellow or a red card, for me this is the first time that I saw a black card issued on a linesman’s instruction.

This early call by the ref left us in for a fiercely contested and occasionally fractious contest which produced a rash of cards the only surprise that only one was red and that was to Armagh substitute Gregory McCabe with 15 minutes to play after receiving a black card and then a red to go with his first-half yellow.

Westmeath got off to a flying start with two John Heslin points and the same player was denied a possible goal by a great block from Aaron McKay before Clarke’s replacement Stefan Campbell opened the Orchard account. A long range effort from Gavin McParland levelled matters before a Niall Grimley converted free gave the visitors a short lived lead. Tied at 3-3 Armagh saw James Morgan black carded (replaced by McCabe) respond to that setback with four unanswered points from Gavin McParland, Rory Grugan (2) and Stephen Sheridan. On the half hour Paul Sharry slammed the ball into the Armagh net after Frank Boyle’s initial effort was well saved by Blaine Hughes and a Heslin free meant the teams ended the half as they began it on level terms 1-4 to 0-7.

Scores were at a premium in the second half with Westmeath taking a 2 point lead via 2 Heslin points. Armagh skipper landed his team’s first point of the second half quickly followed by a terrific equalizer from half back Aidan Forker. The numerically advantaged hosts exerted control of the match but could not reflect it on the scoreboard as they wasted several scoring opportunities. Credit though to the Armagh backroom team as they made some telling second half switches as Oisin O’Neil, Mark Shields, Saran McKee, Ethan Rafferty all made very telling contributions when brought on. O’Neill fired Armagh ahead in the 63rd minute but another sub Alan Vaughan replied with three minutes left to play. Six minutes of injury time were announced with all the smart money going on a home win.

But credit to Armagh as they took full advantage with O’Neil grabbing his second point 10 minutes after getting his first. Westmeath came searching for parity but Armagh defended in numbers and broke downfield in a sweeping move which saw Ethan Rafferty supply the killer goal much to the delight of the large traveling support. With defeat now their lot the last score of the game, a Campbell point for Armagh almost went unnoticed as people were straining to see what was happening off the field in the stand as things became very heated with the Garda involved.

While the quality of football on a whole reflected the divisional status of the two teams the intensity, closeness of the scores, the physicality on display, the crude ruggedness of negative fouling kept everyone on edge. But the bottom line was when a championship exit was staring them in the face Armagh found the resolve, desire and composure to eek out a 5 point victory from the jaws of defeat.

ARMAGH: B Hughes; A McKay, C Vernon, P Hughes; A Forker (0-1), B Doughy, J Morgan; S Sheridan (0-1), N Grimley (0-1); C Longhand, A Duffy, R Grugan (0-3); J Clarke, A Mourning, G McParland (0-2).

Subs: S Campbell (0-2) for Clarke (1 – BC), G McCabe for Morgan (18 – BC), O O’Neill (0-2) for Duffy (44), M Shields for McKay (44), C McKee for McParland (56), E Rafferty (1-0) for Longhand (63).

WESTMEATH: D Quinn; M McCallon, K Maguire, J Gonoud; J Dolan, F Boyle, D Lynch; G Egan, S Duncan; J Egan, P Sharry (1-0), K Reilly; K Daly, K Martin, J Heslin (0-6).

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 (0-1) for Egan (66 – bc), A Gardiner for McCallon (66 – bc).