GAA Football

Armagh cruise to victory as 'Geezer' hits out at 'slabbering' critics

Ethan Rafferty suffered a serious shoulder injury in Armagh's win over Westmeath
From Brendan Crossan in Mullingar

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifier: Westmeath 1-11 Armagh 3-16

AS the evening sun slipped out of view and the light began to fade over Mullingar, there was only fleeting reference to Armagh's comfortable All-Ireland Qualifier win over Westmeath in the post-match interviews.

The Orchard men's Ulster Championship defeat to Fermanagh may be three weeks old, but it was still on Kieran McGeeney and the media's agenda.

The Armagh boss was clearly annoyed by some of the criticism that came in the wake of their tame exit to the Ernemen.

There was plenty of “slabbering”, ‘Geezer claimed, from people who “don't know what they're talking about”.

“You have to listen to a lot, very little directed at you,” he said. “Last year we got a lot of abuse for not getting out of Division Three. We lost basically half our team and the fellas got out of Division Three [this year].

"We'd one bad day and they got a lot of stick for it. It's the first game they lost all year.

“We're not a bad team overnight. When you consider the players that are taking time out – and there's no animosity between our players and them – they're young lads who wanted a break and wanted to travel.

“There's Jamie [Clarke], James Morgan, Ciaran O'Hanlon, Oisin O'Neill and Stefan Campbell and then we're missing Stephen Sheridan and Paul Hughes. They are all serious players.

“People maybe have to step back and take a deep breath before they start slabbering.”

“There are always reasons but you don't like giving them. When people start giving abuse when they don't know what they're talking about, that's the bit that irks you a bit.

“But, listen, they [the pundits] are always going to be right. They'll just wait for another day when you have a bad one.”

He added: “[We were called] an “embarrassment”. Fermanagh are a good team. It was tit for tat between us for a while and we lost a man early in the second half and for people to call us an “embarrassment”, it's tough to take. But when a Division One team gets beaten, it's just they didn't turn up.

“It's interesting when you're standing from my perspective. I listen to teams who are depleted, who are missing one or two, and we're missing 10 and we are an “embarrassment”.”

The fact that McGeeney was happy to rewind three weeks and discuss the fall-out from the Fermanagh defeat tells you everything you needed to know about the comfort with which his team negotiated a potentially tricky Qualifier in Mullingar on Saturday night.

It was a far less stressful affair than last summer's dramatic Championship encounter at the same venue.

Despite the concession of an early goal, well taken by Westmeath's lively centre forward Ronan O'Toole, Armagh never looked in any danger of suffering back-to-back Championship defeats.

Westmeath, without the injured John Heslin, didn't have the quality or physicality to upset their visitors.

Rory Grugan's dancing feet, Charlie Vernon's no-nonsense leadership from midfield, Aidan Forker's blotting out of Kieran Martin, Patrick Burns' front foot defending and a free-scoring bench [2-2] were the key ingredients to Armagh's handsome victory.

The only negative on the night was the bad shoulder injury Ethan Rafferty suffered that is expected to sideline him for the rest of the summer.

“Ethan's gone for the year,” confirmed McGeeney afterwards. “It's a big blow to us. He was playing well. Somebody kneed on top of him and the referee is standing looking at it, you have to ask questions.”

Denis Corroon – one of Westmeath's better players – got away with a yellow card as the game was held up for nine minutes to tend to the unfortunate Rafferty.

Armagh didn't flinch after O'Toole raised a green flag after five minutes from close range as they responded with four unanswered points to push 0-6 to 1-0 ahead after 15 minutes.

The hosts didn't score again until the 24th minute, through O'Toole, while Rafferty hammered over a fine effort from distance and Jemar Hall, winning a rare start in the orange jersey, grabbed two points from play before the break to put Armagh 0-11 to 1-4 up.

Westmeath's challenge completely disintegrated in the 44th minute when goalkeeper Kevin Fagan couldn't handle Andrew Murnin's high, hopeful ball and it squirmed from his grasp and bobbled into his own goal.

Anto Duffy and Gavin McParland were sprung from the Armagh bench and they raised green flags in the 65th and 72nd minutes, respectively.

But the pick of the Orchard substitutes was Ryan McShane.

A brilliant, incisive runner with the ball, the Armagh Harps man grabbed a point and set up numerous scores in the closing stages as Armagh put a bit of polish on the final score-line.

“It was decent performance,” said McGeeney, who expects to have Stephen Sheridan and Paul Hughes back from injury for the next round.

“I still think there's more in them. But we're delighted we're in the hat for Monday and we know it's going to be another step up.”

Afterwards, Westmeath boss Colin Kelly announced his resignation after just one season in charge of the Midlanders, citing burdensome travelling commitments.

“The game ran away from us near the end and we'd used all our subs,” said Kelly, who lost Ger Egan to a late red card.

“It was a difficult finish to the game and they battled as well as they could have accepted. They've performed well throughout the season – it is just [a lack of] experience that kills these guys.

“It's hard for them to come into that environment against a team that is conditioned and as well tuned as Armagh. But there are some Westmeath lads out there that will have a great future.”

Whoever takes over in Westmeath has a huge job ahead of them, while Armagh hope there is still plenty of Championship road in front of them this summer.

Westmeath: K Fagan; M McCallon, S Duncan, J Gonoud; J Egan, N Mulligan, B Sayeh (0-1): D Corroon (0-2, 0-1 free), D Daly; K Martin (0-1), R O'Toole (1-2), G Egan (0-1 free); L Loughlin (0-3 frees), J Connellan, C McCormack Subs: F Coyne (0-1) for D Daly (26), C Slevin for B Sayeh (63), R Wallace for M Callon (66), A McGivney for J Connellan (70), J Rock for J Gonoud (73)

Blood substitution: R Wallace for S Duncan (34-35), R Wallace for D Corroon (53-55)

Yellow cards: B Sayeh (15), K Martin (35), G Egan (35), D Corroon (37), J Connellan (68), G Egan 73)

Red cards: G Egan (35 & 73)

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, C Vernon (0-3), A McKay; J McElroy, G McCabe (0-1), M Shields; B Donaghy, A Findon; C Mackin, A Forker, E Rafferty (0-2); J Hall (0-2), A Murnin (1-1), R Grugan (0-5 frees) Subs: N Rowland for A Findon (h/t), R McShane (0-1) for E Rafferty inj (44), A Duffy (1-1) for C Mackin (58), G McParland (1-0) for J McElroy (65), O Mac Iomhair for J Hall (66)

Yellow cards: A Findon (28), A Forker (35), C Vernon (46), C Mackin (53),

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

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