Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney issues Rian O'Neill fitness update as Conor O'Neill suffers season-ending injury

Rian O'Neill missed Armagh's win over Westmeath with a quad injury
-Credit: (Image: ©INPHO/Leah Scholes)

It was all about the result for Kieran McGeeney on Saturday night as Armagh got back on the horse after their shattering Ulster final defeat.

But he was pretty happy with the performance too as they kicked off the All-Ireland series with a comfortable win over Westmeath, helped by a strong second-half showing.

Just 13 days since they lost an Ulster final to Donegal after extra time via a penalty shootout – for the second year in a row – ‘Geezer’ was pleased his players responded with a win.

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“They’re a resilient group, they showed they can sit at the top table,” said the Armagh boss.

“They (Ulster final defeats) are hard ones to get over, there’s no point saying otherwise. The narrative will be different out there but that’s twice (in Ulster finals) we haven’t been beaten out there on the pitch.

“Derry and Donegal have the titles but we know we gave as good as we got. We are up there and we know that. That’s the story we have and we know the football we can play and the boys just have to believe that.

“We knew this two weeks would be very important to get a result. Westmeath came here last year and pushed us all the way.

“We played in fits and starts but the big thing today was just getting the result.”

A scoring burst of 0-4 from play in the six minutes after half time proved the difference and gave Armagh a cushion for the first time. They were comfortable front-runners and closed the game out.

“There was a wee bit of sloppiness but sometimes that happens after a penalty shootout,” admitted ‘Geezer’ who had his left arm in a sling due to what he later described as “a shoulder injury”.

“There was a very strong breeze in the first half which dropped in the second half but the boys put in a good shift, I was happy with it. I would have like better shot selection in the second half but overall pleased enough."

There was a lot of interest to see how both sides would respond to the disappointment of their respective provincial championship exits here in the Athletic Grounds.

Westmeath were stunned by Wicklow seven weeks ago and had a long wait for this fixture – and after losing to Derry last year on penalties, Armagh had to endure the same heartbreak in 2024, this time to Donegal.

They also had to contend without star man Rian O’Neill, who was absent from the squad through a calf injury.

McGeeney said there was “no point in risking him” hinted he might be ready to return for the crunch showdown with Derry at Celtic Park next Sunday in their second round robin game.

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney -Credit:©INPHO/Leah Scholes

However Conor O’Neill, who was stretchered off last night in the first half, suffered a ruptured achilles and will be a loss for the remainder of the campaign.

The sides were level here four times in a tight first half, which Armagh edged 0-7 to 0-6 at the break.

Both sides had little spurts of scores with Sam McCartan popping over a brace early on for Westmeath, before John Heslin memorably nailed a superb sideline free.

Armagh defended deep and broke at pace with Ciaran Mackin finishing one such burst up the field and it appeared as though Armagh were playing within themselves and had a lot more in reserve.

They came out strongly at the start of the second half with 0-4 from play in the six minutes after the break - two from Oisin Conaty and one apiece from Rory Grugan and Andrew Murnin.

That put the first real daylight between the teams and Armagh were comfortable front-runners after that.

Both sides carved out one good goal chance in the final quarter. Westmeath ‘keeper Jason Daly saving smartly from Oisin Conaty while Stephen Smith’s effort was deflected out for a ‘45’ at the other end.

Westmeath stayed in touch with Kevin Maguire tagging on 0-2 from play but Armagh were always in control of the game and will travel to Derry for next week’s second round game feeling a lot better about themselves after a merited win.

Westmeath boss Dessie Dolan revealed he had hoped to catch Armagh on the hop after their Ulster final setback.

“I was thinking the disappointment of the Ulster final was massive for them and it was a good opportunity for us,” he said.

“I felt if we could have executed a bit better we could have put them under a bit more pressure, but certainly they showed what a good team they are. I’m sure Kieran is delighted now because they were excellent in the Ulster final as well and they’re up and running again now.”

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