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Armagh men pull it out of the fire for McGeeney's return

Westmeath 1-7 Armagh 1-12

By Declan Bogue

Armagh's Championship rolls on, albeit blessed with a slice of luck that they were largely ­deprived of during their league campaign - their first back-to-back qualifier wins under Kieran McGeeney's management.

With this game level on 47 minutes, Westmeath went on to kick no fewer than nine wides in the remaining minutes of the game, some of them eminently scoreable.

By that stage Armagh had lost Crossmaglen duo Jamie Clarke and James Morgan to black cards, Clarke's arriving in the very first play of the game for blocking off Westmeath ­defender Jamie Gonoud.

And with the red carding of ­Gregory McCabe with ­quarter of an hour remaining ­leaving ­Armagh a man short on a ­sapping night, the writing ­appeared to be on the wall for Orchard manager McGeeney, back on the sidelines of Cusack Park having served a 12-week touchline ban.

However, an enormous catch from a kickout by substitute Ethan Rafferty created a chance for fellow sub Oisin O'Neill to nudge them ahead three minutes into injury time. Rafferty then won the resultant break from Darren Quinn's kickout and got on the end of the move to place a shot to the net to put Armagh into the Monday morning pot where they can face Carlow, Tipperary or Monaghan.

McGeeney left media duties to his 2002 All-Ireland winning team mate, selector Paddy McKeever, and he stated: "These boys set out on a journey after Down.

"They were given a lot of stick which was probably deserved, given their performance against Down. But they picked themselves up off the floor.

"Nine points probably flattered us against Fermanagh. ­Tonight was more about the spirit in the team in the last 10 or 15 minutes when they could have packed up and went home because everything seemed to be going against them - down to 14 men, personnel missing and probably exhausted after chasing around extra men.

"I've nothing but respect for the effort that was put in, how smart the effort was at times was questionable. We've only a week to turn things around, keep things fresh and see who we get."

As the first half was ­drawing to a close Armagh began ­opening out a gap, despite ­having James Morgan dismissed on a black card.

It was already double figures when Stephen Sheridan gathered a Darren Quinn kickout and despite an initial fumble, recovered to stuff it over the bar to make it 0-7 to 0-3 after half an hour.

Back Westmeath came though, with a flowing move involving Mark McCallon and Paul Sharry who put Frank Boyle through and despite his shot being blocked by the feet of Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes, Sharry was on hand to rattle in the loose ball.

Another dangerous ball in ­toward John Heslin brought yet another panicked foul from ­Armagh, that Heslin clipped over to leave the sides level at half-time 1-4 to 0-7.

As the game drew to a close McGeeney chose to take off Gavin McParland, scorer of two fine long range points, and ­replace him with Ciaran McKeever who would act as a ­sweeper.

It seemed an act of sabotage, but McKeever's composure and communication were to have an enormous bearing on the closing stages.

"There were 10 minutes left and people might have thought we were going a bit defensive but it was a case of eking out a win and when things opened up we just about got home," added McKeever.

It was the contribution to two other subs at the other end that decided matters on the scoreboard. Rafferty and O'Neill stepped up when it was most needed.

They have work to do. 36 fouls conceded tells its' own story.

But Armagh hung tough, just like of old.

ARMAGH: Hughes; McKay, Vernon, Hughes; Forker 0-1, Donaghy, Morgan; Sheridan 0-1, Grimley 0-1f; O'Hanlon, Duffy, Grugan 0-3, 2f; Clarke, Murnin, McParland 0-2

Subs: O'Neill 0-2 for Duffy, Shields for McKay (44m), McKeever for McParland (56m) Rafferty 1-0 for O'Hanlon (63m)

Yellow cards: McCabe, Murnin (35m), Duffy (42m), Grugan (50m), O'Hanlon (60m)

Black cards: Clarke (1m, replaced by S Campbell 0-2), Morgan (19m, replaced by McCabe), McCabe (54m)

Red cards: McCabe (54m)

WESTMEATH: Quinn; McCallon, Maguire, J Gonoud; Lynch, Boyle, Dolan; Sharry 1-0, Egan; Egan, Martin, Duncan; Reilly, Heslin 0-6, 4f, Daly

Subs: McDaniel for Egan (28m), ­McCormack for Reilly (55m), Stone for Duncan (56m), Mulligan for Lynch (59m),

Yellow cards: Boyle (12m), Gonoud (52m)

Black cards: McCallon, (66m, replaced by Gardiner), Egan (67m, replaced by Gaughan 0-1)

Red cards: 0

Referee: Pádraig Ó Sullivan (Kerry)

Attendance: 5,012

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