GAA Football

Westmeath hold Armagh in game of two halves classic

John Heslin top-scored with 1-6 for Westmeath. Pic: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

Allianz National Football League Division Two: Westmeath 3-12 Armagh 2-15

From Andy Watters at TEG Cusack Park

THEY’LL be talking about this one for a while. It was a topsy-turvy, superbly-entertaining, ‘game of two halves’ classic that could have gone either way. In the end it finished in a draw which, all things considered, was fair enough.

Inconsistency reigned as both teams took turns to strut their stuff and then fall apart. Armagh were totally dominant in the first quarter and led by 1-5 to no-score by the time their hosts registered a point. Westmeath improved from then until half-time but a late flurry just before the interval meant the visitors trotted to the Cusack Park changingrooms leading 1-8 to 0-4 and looking nailed-on for victory.

But, as we are constantly reminded, there is no such thing as ‘nailed-on’ in Division Two. An extraordinary Westmeath comeback began with a John Heslin penalty (given for a disputed Rory Grugan footblock) and continued with goals from Denis Corroon and Luke Loughlin.

The home side led 3-11 to 1-13 when James Dolan joined Sam Duncan in the sin bin but the home side still held a two-point advantage by the time both returned to the action. To their credit, Armagh refused to leave empty-handed and Jamie Clarke saved their blushes and rescued a point with a goal (disputed by Westmeath for a ‘square ball’) at the death. Referee Barry Cassidy blew it up bang-on the five minutes of added-time that had been signalled and both camps agreed that a draw was the right result.

“At one stage we were looking at two points dropped, halfway through the second half we’d have been glad of a point,” said Armagh assistant-manager Jim McCorry.

“You have to give credit to Westmeath, they really put us through it in the second half.

“All the things we said at half-time that we wanted to stop them doing, which we’d seen in previous games they’ve played, they did. They’re a great give-and-go team, they create space and they can get goals as they proved in the second half.

“I’m not too sure how strong the penalty goal was, it was given for a footblock, but they took their other two goals very well and we fell asleep for both of them which is something we said we weren’t going to do.

“That’s disappointing but you still have to hand it to Westmeath, they took the game to us.”

The share of the spoils leaves both counties on five points, one behind Cavan who took over as leaders after their win against Fermanagh on Saturday night.

“In fairness to Armagh, they showed great character,” said Westmeath manager Jack Cooney.

“When you look back on it, no team deserved to lose. At the same time, we had plenty of chances to close it out. We got off to the same start in the second half that Armagh got off to in the first and we managed to hold out, even when we went down to 13 men we asked a lot of questions of Armagh. There was a lot of energy and hunger from the lads so it was a really character-building performance overall.”

The drama of the finish seemed totally improbable in the opening exchanges which were dominated by Armagh. Playing with the breeze at their backs, the Orchardmen had two points on board (Rian O’Neill frees) inside 90 seconds and they looked clearly superior in the early stages, producing some superb attacking football.

A mark from Madden Raparees midfielder Niall Grimley, outstanding in the first half, paved the way for Grugan’s tap-in goal and another O’Neill free and points from Conor Turbitt and Aidan Forker suggested that the game could be over by half-time.

A Heslin free got Westmeath up-and-running and they held their own from there until near the break, even managing a three in-a-row salvo that cut the deficit to six (1-9 to 0-6). But Armagh answered with three of their own from Grugan (two frees) and Mark Shields to establish a 1-12 to 0-7 lead at the interval.

There had been no suggestion that Westmeath were capable of raising their game, or that Armagh would allow them to, in the second half but the midlanders turned the match on its head with two goals in two early second half minutes.

First Callum McCormack burst through the centre of the Orchard defence and referee Cassidy adjudged Grugan to have blocked his shot with his foot. Heslin smashed home the penalty and, from the kick-out, Ronan Wallace raced down the right and fisted the ball to the back post where Corroon was waiting to bundle the ball into the Armagh net.

Westmeath, who had played like a group of lads who’d just met in the first half, were suddenly a well-oiled machine. Training ground moves worked like a dream and corner-back Boidu Sayeh went on a forward run, again straight through the middle, and kicked the equaliser. In the blink of an eye, Armagh’s seemingly impregnable position had collapsed and, although Grugan briefly put them back in front, Loughlin’s goal and points from Heslin and Ronan O’Toole left it 3-11 to 1-13.

Even with Duncan and Dolan in the sin-bin, Westmeath gave as good as they got and as the minutes ticked away a famous win seemed more and more likely.

Jamie Clarke and Forker both missed chances but Armagh skipper Stefan Campbell dragged his men back into it and a series of marauding runs eventually saw him pass to the far post where Clarke was waiting to thump home the equalising goal.

Connellan had a chance to win it from an attacking mark but his shot drifted wide and referee Cassidy blew it up. In the end a draw was fair and it keeps Division Two delightfully claustrophobic.

 

Westmeath: J Daly; K Daly, R Wallace, B Sayeh (0-1); S Duncan, K Maguire, J Dolan; D Corroon (1-0), R Connellan (0-1); A McGivney, R O’Toole (0-2), D Lynch; C McCormack, J Heslin (1-6, 1-0 penalty, 0-5 frees), L Loughlin (1-2, 0-1 45)

Subs: C Coughlan for Lynch (35), T McDaniel for McCormack (55), N Mulligan for McGivney (61), J Smith for Duncan (74)

Black cards: Duncan (48), Dolan (54)

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A Nugent, A Forker (0-1); C O’Neill, S Sheridan, J McElroy; N Grimley, O O’Neill (0-2, 0-1 mark); R Grugan (1-4, 0-2 frees), S Campbell, M Shields (0-1); C Turbitt (0-1), R O’Neill (0-4 frees), J Og Burns (0-1)

Subs: J Duffy for Turbitt (46), J Clarke (1-0) for Nugent (51), J Morgan for McElroy (58), E Rafferty for O O’Neill (64)

Yellow card: R O’Neill (33), Grimley (68)

Referee: B Cassidy (Derry)

 

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