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Armagh cruised to Round Two

 ● All-Ireland Round 1 Qualifier Westmeath 1-11 armagh 3-16

Armagh experienced little difficulty in advancing to the second round of the All-Ireland qualifier at happy hunting grounds Cusack Park, Mulligar where they cruised to their third consecutive victory over hosts Westmeath 3-16 to 1-11. 

The lake county were troubled waters within 12 seconds of the start but responded with a goal on the fourth minute from Ronan O’Toole but failed to capitalise on this lead score 1-0 to 0-2 as the hosts had to wait until the 23rd minute to register their first point from the same player as Armagh lead 0-6 to 1-1. 

Ethan Rafferty opened the scoring followed by a second point from Andrew Murnan with the visitor were rocked by a goal from Ronan O’Toole who capatilised on a short kick out by Blaine Hughes. Armagh responded to the goal in style with a brace of points apiece from Rory Grugan (2 frees) and Charlie Vernon. Westmeath’s first point from O’Toole saw Armagh reply with three points on the bounce as Grugan free, Rafferty and Jermar Hall marked his first championship appearance with a point to leave it 0-9 to 1-1 at the half hour. 

Westmeath enjoyed a minor revival before the short whistle as O’Toole, Luke Loughran free and substitute Finbar Coine hit three unanswer points to cut the deficit to two points. Armagh finished the half as they had started it with two points from Grugan frees and a second from Hall to go in at the half 0-11 to 1-4 in front. 

The second half saw the influential Rafferty carried off with what looked like a nasty injury which could sideline him indefinitely. Armagh were soon in seventh heaven as home goalkeeper Kevin Fegan fielded a Murnin shot banged against the upright and dropped the ball into the net to gift Armagh a seven point lead. 

Credit to the home team, as they reacted to that goal set back with 4 points from Boidu Sayeh, Kieran Martin, Denise Corrcon and Ger Egan free with a Gregory McCabe Armagh point in between to take it back to a four point game 1-12 to 1-8 on the hour mark. 

Armagh substitute Niall Rowland missed an open goal chance after bursting through with fellow substitude Anton Duffy reacting quickest to grab a 3 pointer after his fisted point attempt came back off the upright to kill off any hopes of a home revival. 

A Grugan free and a third Armagh goal from Gavin McParland left the Orchard boys 3-14 to 1-08 ahead as play entered the 8th minute of injury time before the Rafferty injury. Westmeath’s Corroon pointed a free immediately cancel out from on Armagh substitute Ryan McShane with Westmeath finishing the scoring with a brace of Luke Loughlin frees to make the final score 3-16 1-11. 

Westmeath manager Conor Kelly resigned immediately after this qualifier defeat which was the second year in a row that Armagh had knocked them out of the All-Ireland series. 

Armagh did what they had to do in Mullingar – Win, and in doing so knocked up 19 scores as opposed to seven in their last outing. Orchard County manager Kieran McGeeney will be pleased to see how his charges reacted to the Fermanagh defeat. Management opted for three changes to the Armagh side that started against Fermanagh. In came Joe McElroy, Aaron Findon and Jemar Hall as the exclusion of Ben Friel, Brian McShane and Niall Gormley. Also pleasing to the Armagh backroom team will the use of the bench who contributed to the 2-2 the score board with Anton Duffy 1-1, Ryan McShane 0-1 and Gavin McParland 1-0 and half time substitute Niall Rowland also playing his part once he was introduced. No doubt there will be tougher testes ahead for Armagh when Monday’s mornings Round 2 qualifier draw is made but as the saying goes you can only beat what is in front of you. 

Armagh – Blaine Hughes; Patrick Burns, Brendan Donaghy, Aaron McKay; Aidan Forker,  Gregory McCabe (0-1), Connaire Mackin; Charlie Vernon (0-3), Aaron Findon; Joe McElroy, Ethan Rafferty (0-2), Mark Shields; Jemar Hall (0-2), Andrew Murnin (0-1), Rory Grugan (0-5, 5f). Subs: Niall Rowland for A Findon (HT), Ryan McShane (0-1) for E Rafferty (42mins, inj), Anthony Duffy (1-1) for C Mackin (57), Gavin McParland (1-0) for J McElroy (66), Oisín Mac Íomhair for J Hall (66).

Westmeath – Kevin Fagan; Mark McCallon, Sam Duncan, Jamie Gonoud; John Egan, Noel Mulligan, Boidu Sayeh (0-1); Denis Corroon (0-2, 1f), Darragh Daly; Kieran Martin (0-1), Ronan O’Toole (1-2), Ger Egan (0-1, 1f); Luke Loughlin (0-3, 3f), John Connellan, Callum McCormack. Subs: Finbar Coyne (0-1) for D Daly (25mins), Ronan Wallace for S Duncan (34, blood), David Whelan for J Egan (50), Ronan Wallace for D Corroon (54, blood), Conor Slevin for B Sayeh (63) Ronan Wallace for M McCallon (66), Anthony McGivney for J Connellan (71), John Rock for G Egan (73)