Preview: Armagh will need to take lessons from last year

By Shaun Casey

IT’S a case of déjà vu for Armagh as they begin their All-Ireland series against Westmeath on Saturday afternoon. Armagh’s group is more or less identical to last year, when the Orchard County finished top of the pile and advanced straight to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

They begin with a home tie against Westmeath and finish with an exciting clash with Galway in a neutral venue. The only difference between this year and last is that they travel to Celtic Park, Derry instead of Healy Park, Omagh in round two.

And like last year, Kieran McGeeney’s men will have to quickly lick their wounds from another devastating Ulster final defeat, which again was decided via a penalty shootout, although it was Donegal who captured the Anglo Celt on this occasion.

How Armagh can get over that disappointment, regroup, refocus and go again will be the main talking points as they welcome Dessie Dolan’s men in maroon to the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds this week.

McGeeney cut a disgruntled figure when he eventually appeared for his post-match interviews after Armagh had nudged past Westmeath by the minimum of margins 12 months ago, a late Conor Turbitt goal proving crucial.

The 2002 All-Ireland winning captain was disappointed with how his side had recovered from their Ulster final defeat and frustrated with the level of performance they showed against their Leinster opponents.

What lessons will the Orchard County have taken from last season’s experience? We’ll have to wait until Saturday evening to find out but McGeeney, speaking after the Ulster final, knows Westmeath offer a stiff challenge.

“Westmeath at home, that’s the first game now. I know from last year what that was like, we scraped through by a point, and everybody was giving out, but we soon found out how good Westmeath were,” said McGeeney, now in his tenth year in charge of Armagh.

“They pushed Galway until they lost a man and then ended up drawing with Tyrone (last year). Only for the missed free kick that day from (John) Heslin in the end (they would have qualified for the knockout stages).”

Not only do Armagh have last year to reflect on but Westmeath, Tailteann Cup champions in 2022, have already claimed some silverware this year and shown that they are a tough nut to crack.

In the Division Three league final against Down, Westmeath simply parked the bus and denied the Mourne County any real goalscoring opportunities, but they did rattle off two majors of their own which were the difference in the end.

“They have a good day out in Croke Park recently, beating Down in the Division Three decider and they’re up in Division Two now,” added the Orchard boss.

“They’re a strong team, we’re going to have our fill of it, so we have to be ready for it. Whether we like it or not it’s about getting back on the horse.”

Westmeath’s league momentum failed to carry through to the championship however and the Lake County fell at the first hurdle in Leinster, losing out to Oisín McConville’s Wicklow by the minimum of margins.

They’ve had six weeks to recover from that unexpected provincial exit and compared to Armagh’s 13-day turnaround, Westmeath should be much fresher and more alert heading into the group stages.

And as they showed last year, they have enough quality in their ranks to really cause Armagh a lot of trouble. While Heslin in the headline grabber in the Westmeath attack, he’s certainly not the only fire the home side will have to put out.

Ronan O’Toole was the Westmeath goal scorer in their 1-13 to 1-12 defeat in 2023 and he pulled the strings at centre half-forward while Luke Loughlin, scorer of 0-2, was another who caught the eye.

In terms of how Armagh line out, McGeeney will have a few selection headaches of his own to make and may decide to shake things up to help breathe new life into a team that is surely short on motivation right now.

That could mean the likes of Aidan Nugent and Oisin O’Neill are in from the start. Both men have had to be content with the ‘impact sub’ role so far this season, and both lived up to that billing in their last couple of appearances.

Conor O’Neill is back fit again and could be an option in defence. Armagh look to have a clean bill of health ahead of the All-Ireland series, so it’s whether McGeeney chooses to freshen things up or not.

Armagh should have learned the harsh lessons of last year and won’t take Westmeath for granted, but bouncing back from another crushing shootout defeat could take time. If Armagh aren’t properly prepared for this one, it could be a long afternoon in the Cathedral City.


2023 – Armagh 1-13 Westmeath 1-12
A GOAL from Westmeath playmaker Ronan O’Toole saw the underdogs ahead by three at half time and Dessie Dolan’s men were fit to keep the Orchard County at arm’s length for the majority of the contest.

But Armagh came good in the final ten minutes, and it was a major from second-half substitute Conor Turbitt that got Kieran McGeeney’s men out of jail and they went on to top their group.

Armagh: E Rafferty, J Morgan, A McKay, A Forker, G McCabe, C O’Neill, J Óg Burns, B Crealey, C Mackin (0-1), R Grugan (0-3, 2f), J Duffy, S Campbell (0-2), A Murnin (0-3), R O’Neill (0-4 3f), A Nugent
Subs: B McCambridge for Morgan, C Turbitt (1-0) for Nugent, R McQuillan for Burns, S McPartlan for Crealey, C Cumiskey for Duffy

Westmeath: J Daly, J Smith, K Maguire, J Gonoud, J Dolan, A McCormack, D Lynch (0-1), S Duncan (0-1), R Connellan, S McCartan (0-1), R O’Toole (1-1), S Baker, L Loughlin (0-2), J Heslin (0-6, 4f), S Smith
Subs: J Lynam for Baker, R Wallace for J Smith, K Martin for S Smith, E Mulvihill for Lynam

2023 – Armagh 1-13 Westmeath 1-12 – All-Ireland group stage
2020 – Westmeath 3-12 Armagh 2-15 – NFL
2018 – Westmeath 1-11 Armagh 3-16 – Qualifiers
2018 – Westmeath 1-11 Armagh 2-17 – NFL
2017 – Westmeath 1-7 Armagh 1-12 – Qualifiers



McKenna Cup
Donegal 3-16 Armagh 1-6
Armagh 1-14 Tyrone 2-10
Armagh 2-7 Derry 0-17

Armagh 0-12 Louth 0-11
Armagh 2-16 Meath 0-10
Kildare 0-8 Armagh 2-16
Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12
Fermanagh 0-11 Armagh 0-15
Armagh 2-21 Cavan 0-12
Cork 2-16 Armagh 2-16
Armagh 0-15 Donegal 0-16

Fermanagh 0-9 Armagh 3-11
Armagh 0-13 Down 2-6
Armagh 0-20 Donegal 0-20 (5-6 on penalties)


O’Byrne Cup
Longford 0-9 Westmeath 0-7
Westmeath 0-12 Louth 2-12

Offaly 0-10 Westmeath 1-11
Westmeath 1-11 Clare 0-13
Wicklow 0-10 Westmeath 1-13
Westmeath 0-14 Limerick 1-8
Antrim 0-9 Westmeath 0-13
Westmeath 0-13 Down 1-10
Sligo 1-14 Westmeath 0-11
Westmeath 2-10 Down 0-13

Westmeath 1-11 Wicklow 2-9


Conor Turbitt 3-37 (21f, 1-0 pen, 1m)
Rory Grugan 2-27 (15f)
Oisin Conaty 0-21

Luke Loughlin 0-23 (11f)
Senan Baker 1-12 (11f)
Ronan O’Toole 0-15

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere

No tags for this post.

Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW