By Francis Mooney
Westmeath 1-7 Armagh 1-12
Westmeath restored battered pride, but it was 14-man Armagh who took the spoils in a bruising Round 2B Qualifier at Cusack Park.
The sides were level as a tetchy tie slipped into stoppage time, but a late Orchard blitz saw them shoot 1-2 to get themselves into the bowl for Monday morning’s draw.
Substitutes Oisin O’Neill and Stefan Campbell steered over points, and it was another sub, Ethan Rafferty, who hit the clinching goal, leaving Tom Cribbin’s men to rue ten second half wides.
So, Westmeath’s season comes to an end by way of a battling, courageous display, which goes some way towards easing the pain of a Leinster SFC mauling at the hands of the Dubs.
John Heslin shot Westmeath into a two points lead after Armagh had sensationally lost ace attacker Jamie Clarke to a black card after less than a minute.
The Leinster men carried some attacking punch in those opening stages, and Heslin was denied a goal by a perfectly timed Aaron McKay tackle just as he was about to unleash a shot.
But Armagh were dangerous on the breakaway, and used the slight wind to maximum effect for Gavin McParland to land a couple of spectacular long range scores.
Niall Grimley’s free eased them ahead in the 12th minute, and despite losing a second Crossmaglen man, James Morgan, to a black card, they continued to attack with verve.
McParland couldn’t miss, and fired over a third stunning effort, and a couple of frees from skipper Rory Grugan had them four points in front.
But just when it looked as if the home side was flagging, they hit back with a goal on the half hour.
A flowing move gave Frank Boyle the opportunity to rifle in a shot, which was superbly saved by Blaine Hughes, but Paul Sharry followed up to net from the rebound.
Heslin’s fourth score made it 1-4 to 0-7 at the turnaround, and the St Loman’s man shot his side back in front from a long-range free early in the second half.
But the Lake county men were punished for sloppiness at the back, with turnovers gifting scores to Aidan Forker and Grugan.
Armagh were reduced to 14 men when substitute Gregory McCabe, who had already been booked, picked up black and red cards, but they went back in front when Oisin O’Neill pierced the home defence for a brilliant score.
Despite being a man up, the home side went 25 minutes without a score, hitting some bad wides in the process, and were also to lose men to black cards, mark McCallon and the impressive John Egan forced out of the action.
However, Egan’s replacement, Alan Gaughan, brought them level again on 58 minutes, and once again their finishing let them down as they went for the winner.
Armagh survived a spell of pressure to break, and late scores from O’Neill and Rafferty, either side of Rafferty’s clinical finish as they made it through to the third round with a somewhat flattering five points margin.
Westmeath: D Quinn; M McCallion, K Maguire, J Gonoud; D Lynch, F Boyle, J Dolan; P Sharry (1-0), G Egan; J Egan, K Martin, S Duncan; K Reilly, J Heslin (0-6, 4f), K Daly.
Subs: T McDaniel for G Egan (27), C McCormack for Reilly (54), A Stone for Duncan (55), N Mulligan for Lynch (59) A Gardiner for McCallon (BC 65), A Gaughan (0-1) for J Egan (BC 65)
Armagh: B Hughes; A McKay, C Vernon, P Hughes; A Forker (0-1), B Donaghy, J Morgan; S Sheridan (0-01), N Grimley (0-1, f); C O’Hanlon, A Duffy, R Grugan (0-3, 2f); J Clarke, A Murnin, G McParland (0-3).
Subs: S Campbell (0-1) for Clarke (BC 1), G McCabe for Morgan (BC 18), M Shields for McKay (44), O O’Neill (0-2) for Duffy (44), C McKeever for McParland (56), E Rafferty (1-0) for O’Hanlon (65)
Referee: P O’Sullivan (Kerry).