|27 May 2023
|Sam Maguire Cup
Conor Turbitt’s goal from the bench proved pivotal for Armagh as they dramatically came from behind to edge out Westmeath in both sides’ opening Sam Maguire encounter.
Armagh’s last competitive action was the dramatic penalties final defeat to Derry in the Ulster Senior Championship, and they carried a slight hangover from that into their first Sam Maguire half of the year.
John Heslin, Rory Grugan and Stefan Campbell all exchanged early points as the hosts nosed ahead but it wasn’t to stay that way very long.
Within ten minutes, Ronan O’Toole had pilfered the opening goal of the game, calmly converting past Ethan Rafferty as Westmeath exchanged pressure for points.
Sam McCartan and Luke Loughlan pointed as the visitors stretched their lead out to four. Home points by Rian O’Neill and Grugan halved the deficit with twenty minutes gone.
But Heslin and O’Toole’s swiftly taken points restored the Westmeath initiative.
Refusing to lie down, Armagh attacked intensely as the half closed, three points in as many minutes from O’Neill, Campbell and Grugan making it a slender 0-6 to 1-5 away advantage.
Yet, that was extended just before the break thanks to Heslin’s third point and Sam Duncan slotting his first as O’Toole’s goal separated the sides at the interval.
After a slow burner start to the second half, Andrew Murnin and O’Neill (again) wrestled Armagh back within a point of Westmeath.
Despite another Murnin point cancelling out Heslin’s fourth point, Loughlan and Dave Lynch strikes, amidst a flurry of yellow cards and niggly fouls, restored Westmeath’s lead to a goal-buffer.
As the clock ticked past the hour mark though, Armagh advanced and in a minute, had entirely shifted the momentum of this Sam Maguire opener.
O’Neill’s fourth point, another fine haul for him, complimented moments later by Conor Turbitt, on as a substitute, soaring up field and scoring Armagh’s goal to cancel out O’Toole’s.
Heslin heroically hauled the away side level on 1-11 apiece but late Murnin and Ciaran Mackin points saw Armagh get over the line, just about, after a late black card for Murnin was punished by Heslin hitting the half-dozen points tally, albeit it was in vain for his side’s hopes of victory.
That honour goes Armagh’s way as they slot into second place in group 2, tucked in behind Galway.
In what is shaping up to be a close-run, competitive group, Westmeath welcome Galway next Saturday while Armagh travel to Tyrone, all sides very much still in group qualification contention.
|Jarlath Óg Burns
|BOX-IT Athletic Grounds