Armagh scramble over the line to edge out Westmeath in close-fought encounter

Late points from Andrew Murnin and Ciaran Mackin helped the Orchard County to a single-point victory in Armagh

All-Ireland SFC Round 1: Armagh 1-13 Westmeath 1-12

Armagh diced with danger before finally managing to scramble over the line in this absorbing All-Ireland SFC round robin tie at the sun-splashed BOX-IT Athletic Grounds on Saturday.

It was in a pulsating finish that Armagh just managed to edge out their gritty opponents after they had played with tremendous verve and courage for the greater part of the game.

Indeed it was Westmeath who held the whip hand in the opening stages when they took the game to their hosts, launching a series of attacks that had Armagh on the back foot.

And after John Heslin had fired over the visitors’ opening point, it was centre half forward Ronan O’Toole who rocked Armagh, when following a slick passing movement, he drilled home a superb 14th-minute goal that jolted the home side.


When Sam MacCartan and Luke Loughlin swooped for points that eased the Midlands side into a 1-3 to 0-2 lead, Armagh began to look distinctly uncomfortable.

They recovered ground to some extent when Rian O’Neill and Rory Grugan converted frees in the 19th and 20th minutes respectively, but Westmeath were not to be knocked out of their stride.

Heslin and O’Toole found the range again to put Westmeath ahead by 1-5 to 0-4, and it was only when the Westmeath defence succumbed to a raft of defensive indiscretions that Armagh forced their way back into the game.

Within a three-minute spell, Stefan Campbell, Grugan and O’Neill hoisted over points to keep their side in touch at 1-5 to 0-7. It was the visitors, however, who provided a gloss finish to the first half, with Heslin pointing from a free and Sam Duncan whipping over another score to leave their side in front by 1-7 to 0-7 at the break.

In the third quarter, Armagh managed to stay on Westmeath’s shoulder with Andrew Murnin and O’Neill landing points, before the accurate Heslin nosed Westmeath into a 1-8 to 0-9 advantage.

Slowly but surely, though, Armagh began to play with greater belief and after Murnin and Loughlin had exchanged points, Armagh achieved a major breakthrough in the 67th minute when substitute Conor Turbitt stabbed home their goal after a long high lob eluded the Westmeath defence.

And that was the signal for the home team to close out the game – although not altogether convincingly.

When Heslin tied the game at 1-11 each a draw looked inevitable, but instead Armagh dug deep into their reservoir of stamina, and when Murnin and Ciaran Mackin pilfered points in the closing minutes they took their side into a 1-13 to 1-11 lead.

Even then the spirited Westmeath had no intention of throwing in the towel with Heslin grabbing his sixth point of the game, but it was Armagh who stole the plaudits in a dramatic finish that sets up what should be a titanic tussle between the Orchard County and Tyrone next weekend.

The Tyrone management duo of Fergal Logan and Brian Dooher were at BOX-IT Athletic Grounds to do their homework and were given plenty of food for thought.

ARMAGH: E Rafferty; J Morgan, A McKay, A Forker; G McCabe, C O’Neill, J Og Burns; B Crealy, C Mackin 0-1; R Grugan 0-3 (2f), J Duffy, S Campbell 0-2; A Murnin 0-3, R O’Neill 0-4 (2f), A Nugent. Subs: B McCambridge for Morgan (22 mins), C Turbitt 1-0 for Nugent (45 mins), R McQuillan for Burns (48 mins), S McPartlan for Crealey (62 mins), G Cumiskey for Duffy (65 mins)

WESTMEATH: J Daly; J Smith, K Maguire, J Gonoud; J Dolan, A McCormack, D Lynch 0-1; S Duncan 0-2, R Connellaan; S McCartan, R O’Toole 1-1, S Baker; l Loughlin 0-2, J Heslin 0-6 (3f), S Smith. Subs: J Lynn for Baker (37 mins), R Wallace for J Smith (40 mins), K Martin for S Smiith (54 mins).

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).