Armagh leave Ulster final disappointment behind with convincing All-Ireland win against Westmeath

Kieran McGeeney’s men kick on in second half to win by five points at Athletic Grounds

Armagh's Tiernan Kelly on the attack with Westmeath's Jonathan Lynam and Kevin Maguire in pursuit. Picture: John Merry
Armagh's Tiernan Kelly on the attack with Westmeath's Jonathan Lynam and Kevin Maguire in pursuit. Picture: John Merry (J_Merry)

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Group One, Round One: Armagh 0-16 Westmeath 0-11

DID Westmeath think they would catch Armagh on the hop after their Ulster final heartbreak?

“Abso-bloody-lutely – that was the plan!” said their manager Dessie Dolan with a chuckle.

“I was thinking the disappointment of the Ulster final was massive for them and it was a good opportunity for us. If we had executed a bit better we could have put them under a bit more pressure, but they showed what a good team they are.”

Armagh were a level above Dolan’s men and they left the disappointment of losing to Donegal behind them with a convincing win in their All-Ireland opener. They stepped on the gas after the break to turn a one-point lead at the interval into a five-point win and the final margin flattered the visitors who needed two frees in the final couple of minutes to take the bad look off the scoreboard.

“The boys worked really hard, they put in a good shift and probably should have been further ahead,” said Kieran McGeeney.

“I was happy with it but we could have done with a wee bit better shot selection in the second half and it wouldn’t have been as close at the end.

“Westmeath are well organised and have some really top footballers. When we beat them by a point here last year, everybody was saying (it was a poor performance from Armagh) yet they were beating Galway until they got a man sent off and then they pushed Tyrone the whole way.

“They’ve come out of Division Three, beat Down in the final, so we knew we were going to have a tough game.”

Against the wind in the first half, Armagh kept the ball cautiously while Westmeath tried their luck from all over the place and hit two efforts wide and dropped five more into the safe hands of Blaine Hughes.

The six points they did manage were all good scores and Sam McCartan posted their opener before Ciaran Mackin – outstanding as a roving number six – forced a free as Armagh pressed and Conor Turbitt chipped it over to equalise.

McCartan curled over his second to restore Westmeath’s lead but it changed hands quickly as Stefan Campbell, Tiernan Kelly and Conor O’Neill registered points. Westmeath survived a couple of close shaves when Rory Grugan and Mackin almost broke through their rearguard after lightning counters and their hard work in defence was rewarded when Ronan O’Toole finished from the left and then Robbie Forde equalised from 40 metres.

Armagh's Greg McCabe bursts through a tackle from Westmeath's James Dolan. Picture: John Merry
Armagh's Greg McCabe bursts through a tackle from Westmeath's James Dolan. Picture: John Merry (J_Merry)

Luckless Conor O’Neill had been stretchered off with a ruptured Achilles before O’Toole tried a potshot which soared miles into air. Joe McElroy caught it and Armagh raced upfield in a flowing move that ended with a Mackin point and when Aidan Forker was fouled in the next attack the reliable Grugan curled over the free.

The visitors hit back as Heslin replied with a superb score from touchline and then Ray Connellan spotted O’Toole’s break and the St Loman’s forward turned and slashed a brilliant finish to level it. A Turbitt free – after the raiding Mackin had again been fouled – meant Armagh led 0-7 to 0-6 at the interval.

The Orchardmen had been cautious and deliberate in the first half but they went for the kill from the moment Andrew Murnin won the throw-in for the second.

Oisin Conaty – who had a frustrating first half – got the first score of the second and then Grugan dropped the shoulder to create space and curled over a beauty off his right foot. Conaty and Murnin scores left five in it and, at the other end, Westmeath were kept at distance or forced out to the wings by the well-marshalled Armagh defence. All they could manage were hit-and-hope wides from Dolan, Forde (twice) and McCormack.

When Westmeath lost patience, Armagh broke with lightning pace and Conaty and Jason Duffy earned another free for Grugan and it was double-scores (0-12 to 0-6).

Kevin Maguire replied for Westmeath – their first score after 20 second half minutes – and Luke Loughlin managed another but then sent a 45 wide and, from the restart, Hughes drilled a monster kickout straight down the middle.

Murnin plucked it out of the air, transferred to Grugan and on to Conaty whose piledriver was brilliantly saved by Jason Daly. Grugan and Nugent stroked over frees to leave six in it but Westmeath kept grabbing for a lifeline and Stephen Smith (who on this evidence should have been on earlier) weaved through the Armagh defence and forced a fingertip save from Hughes.

The visitors managed three more points in the closing stages but the result was never in doubt.

Armagh have steadied the ship and it’s full-steam-ahead for Derry next Sunday.

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; C O’Neill (0-1), Ciaran Mackin (0-1), A Forker; T Kelly (0-1), B Crealey; J McElroy, R Grugan (0-5, 0-3 frees), S Campbell (0-1); O Conaty (0-2), A Murnin (0-1), C Turbitt (0-2 frees)

Subs: G McCabe for C O’Neill (26), O O’Neill for Crealey (HT), J Duffy for Campbell (51), A Nugent (0-2, 0-1 free) for Turbitt (60)

Westmeath: J Daly; J Gonoud, K Maguire (0-2), J Dolan; S McCartan (0-2), R Wallace, E Mulvihill; R Connellan, A McCormack; J Lynam, R O’Toole (0-2), C Dillon; L Loughlin (0-1), J Heslin (0-3 frees), R Forde (0-1)

Subs: M Whittaker for Dillon (41), K Martin for Gonoud (60), D Lynch for Forde (54), S Smith for Loughlin (67)

Yellow cards: Lynam (35), McCormack (37)

Referee: C Lane (Cork)

Attendance: 5,989