Armagh, who led by eight points at half-time, needed a goal from sub, Jamie Clarke, in the 70th minute to earn a share of the spoils with Westmeath in a pulsating game in Mullingar.
The visitors had the aid of a slight breeze in the first half and led by 1-5 to 0-0 with just ten minutes elapsed. The goal a slapped effort from close range by Rory Grugan at the end of a great move in the fourth minute, while three of the points came from Rian O’Neill frees.
A John Heslin free settled Westmeath somewhat, but they were overly dependent on Luke Loughlin for attacking inspiration. Unanswered points from Loughlin, Heslin (a free) and Ray Connellan reduced the gap to five points after 30 minutes.
However, Niall Grimley and Oisín O’Neill continued to lord the midfield area, and Kieran McGeeney’s charges ended the half with three points without reply from Grugan (two frees) and Mark Shields. They were full value for their 1-12 to 0-7 lead at half-time.
Jack Cooney’s troops were a changed outfit in the second half. Heslin converted an early free before a quickfire brace of goals totally transformed the contest. Heslin scored the first with a superb strike from the penalty spot in the 41st minute after Callum McCormack’s shot had been foot-blocked.
Within a minute, Denis Corroon slapped the ball home from close range, after fine approach play by Anthony McGivney and Ronan Wallace. A wonderful solo point from corner back Boidu Sayeh then levelled the scoring (2-9 to 1-12) after 45 minutes.
Westmeath picked up two black cards – Sam Duncan (48th minute) and James Dolan (54th minute) – either side of which the dynamic Loughlin scored a great goal to put his side in control.
The home team looked the likely winners when they led by three points (3-12 to 1-15) approaching the end of normal time. However, a cautious approach backfired when Clarke pounced for the equalising goal after being teed up by Stefan Campbell.
Neither team could add to their tallies in five minutes’ added-time, with Connellan spurning the best chance from a 40-metre ‘mark’ in the fourth extra minute.
Westmeath boss, Jack Cooney, said: We looked a little bit disjointed at the start of the game. It was almost as if Armagh sensed it, and they blitzed us in the first ten minutes. Then we missed a few chances that we would generally put over, and their three points just before half-time were a killer for us. But we played some really quality football in the second half.”
Scorers for Westmeath: J Heslin (1-6, 1-0 pen, 5f), L Loughlin (1-2, 1 ‘45’), D Corroon (1-0), R O’Toole (0-2), B Sayeh, R Connellan (0-1 each).
Scorers for Armagh: R Grugan (1-4, 2f), R O’Neill (0-4, 4f), J Clarke (1-0), O O’Neill (0-2, 1m), J Óg Burns, A Forker, J Duffy, C Turbitt, M Shields (0-1 each).
WESTMEATH: J Daly; K Daly, R Wallace, B Sayeh; S Duncan, K Maguire, J Dolan; D Corroon, R Connellan; A McGivney, R O’Toole, D Lynch; C McCormack, J Heslin, L Loughlin.
Subs: C Coughlan for Lynch (55), T McDaniel for McCormack (57), N Mulligan for McGivney (inj., 61), J Smith for Duncan (70 + 4).
ARMAGH: B Hughes; P Burns, A Nugent, A Forker; C O’Neill, S Sheridan, J McElroy; N Grimley, O O’Neill; R Grugan, S Campbell, M Shields; C Turbitt, R O’Neill, J Óg Burns.
Subs: J Duffy for Turbitt (45), J Clarke for Nugent (50), J Morgan for McElroy (57), E Rafferty for O O’Neill (64).
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).