Ruthless Armagh take full points against Westmeath
Allianz Football League Division Three: Westmeath 1-11 Armagh 2-17
ARMAGH found the ruthless touch required to win a game they had dominated when Westmeath briefly threatened to beat them in Mullingar yesterday.
Ten missed chances – including a Niall Grimley shot that hit a post – had kept the westerners in it in the first half and when James Dolan punched a 52nd minute goal to put them a point ahead, Armagh suddenly found themselves in some trouble.
But they found a new gear and more than doubled their score with 1-9 in the final 20 minutes to run out nine-point winners and add another injection of momentum to their promotion push.
Afterwards manager Kieran McGeeney was able to reflect on consecutive 2-17 hauls for his side and two more points which keep Armagh on course for Division Two football next year.
“We mixed good and bad,” said McGeeney.
“We started off very slow and we missed a lot in the first half. We probably left 1-5 behind us which was a wee bit frustrating, especially in the first 20 minutes. But we did well when they came back into it in the second half.
“When Westmeath pushed us the boys responded well and responded in style and finished very strong so I was happy with that. There some really good performances there, especially Ryan McShane and Ethan (Rafferty) really stood up. It was great to see it.”
McShane was one of several new faces who staked a claim for an extended run in this Armagh side. His determination and confidence was a feature of the Armagh attack while Greg McCabe, Aaron McKay and Patrick Burns, nephew of former Orchard skipper Jarlath Burns, all impressed in defence.
“From a managers’ point of view it’s a great thing to see somebody coming in and wanting to play for their county and really putting their hand up and not letting anyone else take it (their place in the team) off them,” said McGeeney.
“It’s a very encouraging thing. It’s still early in the year, a long way from Championship football, but we could be nothing but happy with the two games to date.”
McGeeney’s men had looked defensively solid in the first half, but they were uncertain up front and there had been six wides before Rory Grugan finally opened their account in the 19th minute.
By that stage Westmeath had points on the board from Ronan O’Toole (inside the first minute) and Luke Loughlin but they threatened only sporadically.
Both sides defended in numbers and gave the ball away frequently as they tried to put attacks together but, with Grugan’s passing a joy to watch at times, Armagh created regular scoring chances. They took the lead for the first time when Rafferty, a handful at full-forward, grabbed Grugan’s lob into the square and broke it to Lappin whose shot bobbled into the back of the Westmeath net.
Grugan (two) and Rafferty extended the visitors’ lead and John Heslin and Rafferty swapped frees before the interval which came with Armagh to 1-5 to 0-5 ahead.
With the wind at their backs, Westmeath kicked into the ‘Dunnes Stores’ end in the second half but Armagh extended their lead when McShane, whose direct running punched holes in the home defence all afternoon, found Stephen Sheridan whose superb finish sent Armagh four ahead.
A free from John Heslin – the outstanding performer in a quality midfield battle with Charlie Vernon a close second – was the start of a tit-for-tat scoring sequence as Westmeath began to find a foothold in the game.
Niall Grimley and Finbar Coyne, then Cillian Daly and Aidan Forker swapped scores before Callum McCormack’s point cut the deficit to two.
Armagh were struggled to cope with Westmeath’s running game and Luke Loughlin made ground down the left, reached the touchline and fisted a pass across goal to the back post where Dolan was there to punch ball into the net.
Suddenly Westmeath had a one-point lead, but they held it for just over a minute as Armagh rallied in clinical style.
Grugan found space to take a clearance out of defence and turned his marker Boidu Sayeh. Sayeh clearly fouled the Ballymacnab clubman, but Grugan held him off and charged into the square.
He was met there by David Whelan who fouled him again and referee Martin McNally correctly awarded a penalty. Grugan slotted in into the left corner and Armagh never looked back.
McShane, Aidan Forker (two), Grugan added points in quick succession as the Orchardmen kept their boot on Westmeath’s throat and Grange full-forward Rafferty hit three superb scores as Armagh cantered home to a nine-point win.
Westmeath manager Colin Kelly had no complaints.
“I felt we were second best all day,” he said.
“I thought Armagh were excellent and I thought we just weren’t as good as we’ve been in previous games but that happens in football. But credit to Armagh, I thought some of the scores they took were excellent and every time we seemed to get a bit of momentum, they stopped it with another score.
“Kieran and Jim (McCorry) are good coaches and they have lots of talent in the group. They’re a good side. It was a difficult afternoon but we’ll move on.”
Westmeath: E Carberry; M McCallon, K Daly (0-1), B Sayeh; N Mulligan, F Boyle (0-1), J Dolan (1-0); A Stone, J Heslin (0-3 frees); K Martin, R O’Toole (0-1), G Egan; C McCormack (0-1), L Loughlin (0-2), J Egan
Subs: D Whelan (0-1) for Egan (10), F Coyne (0-1) for Stone (46), C Slevin for Mulligan (57), J Marchment for Whelan (67)
Yellow cards: M McCallon (32), Heslin (35), Mulligan (41), Martin (45)
Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P Shields; N Rowland, G McCabe, M Shields; S Sheridan (0-1), C Vernon; R McShane (0-1), A Forker (0-2), R Lappin (1-0); R Grugan (1-4, 0-2 frees, 1-0 penalty), N Grimley (0-2 frees), E Rafferty (0-6, 0-1 free)
Subs: J McElroy for Rowland (50), B Donaghy for Burns (59), B Crealey for Lappin (59), A Duffy for Shields (66), A Findon for Grimley (70), R Kennedy for Forker (70)
Referee: M McNally (Monaghan)