Substitute Ethan Rafferty grabbed a late goal to give Armagh a 1-12 to 1-07 SFC Qualifier win over Westmeath at Mullingar.

In a bruising encounter, the Ulster men saved their best until the very last, and blitzed their wasteful opponents with vital late scores from subs, with Oisin O’Neill and Stefan Campbell hitting the target in the closing stages.

The sides were level going into stoppage time, but subs O’Neill and Campbell, with points, and Rafferty, with a goal, saw the Orchard through.

Referee Padraig O’Sullivan had a testing evening, handing out four black cards, a red and a rash of yellows from start to finish of a physical contest.

In a sensational start to the game, Armagh’s ace attacker Jamie Clarke was black-carded for dragging back Jamie Ginoud after just 15 seconds.

John Heslin shot the home side into a two-point lead, and the St Loman’s man was denied by a brilliant Aaron McKay tackle as he attempted to pull the trigger for a shot on goal.

David Lynch and Kevin Maguire defended solidly as the Orchard men built from the back, but the sides were level by the tenth minute, thanks to two spectacular Gavin McParland scores.

They went ahead for the first time two minutes later when Brendan Donaghy won the free that Niall Grimley converted.

Heslin had just levelled when a second Crossmaglen man picked up a black card, this time defender James Morgan walking as punishment for dragging down Paul Sharry in the 17th minute.

But they pushed on with scores from McParland and skipper Rory Grugan to go two clear by the 24th minute.

The Lake county suffered a blow with the loss of midfielder Ger Egan to injury, but they struck for a goal in the 30th minute. Frank Boyle got on the end of a flowing move to fire in a shot which was saved by Blaine Hughes, but Paul Sharry followed up to net from the rebound.

Heslin levelled to send his side in on equal terms at 1-4 to 0-7, and had his side back in front from a long-range free early in the second half.

But Tom Cribbin’s men were punished for sloppiness at the back, with turnovers gifting scores to Aidan Forker and Grugan.

Armagh were reduced to 14 men when substitute Gregory McCabe, who had already been booked, picked up black and red cards, but they went back in front when Oisin O’Neill charged through for a morale-boosting score.

Despite being a man up, the home side went 25 minutes without a score, hitting some bad wides in the process, and were also to lose men to black cards, Mark McCallon and the impressive John Egan forced out of the action.

However, Egan’s replacement, Alan Gaughan, brought them level again after 58 minutes, and once again their finishing let them down as they went for the winner.

Armagh survived a spell of pressure to break, and late scores from O’Neill and Campbell, either side of Rafferty’s splendid finish to the net, saw them negotiate a tricky tie.

Westmeath: D Quinn; M McCallion, K Maguire, J Gonoud; D Lynch, F Boyle, J Dolan; P Sharry (1-00), G Egan; J Egan, K Martin, S Duncan; K Reilly, J Heslin (0-06, 4f), K Daly.

Subs: T McDaniel for G Egan (27), C McCormack for Reilly (54), A Stone for Duncan (55), N Mulligan for Lynch (59) A Gardiner for McCallon (BC 65), A Gaughan (0-01) for J Egan (BC 65)

Armagh: B Hughes; A McKay, C Vernon, P Hughes; A Forker (0-01), B Donaghy, J Morgan; S Sheridan (0-01), N Grimley (0-01, f); C O’Hanlon, A Duffy, R Grugan (0-03, 2f); J Clarke, A Murnin, G McParland (0-03).

Subs: S Campbell (0-01) for Clarke (BC 1), G McCabe for Morgan (BC 18), M Shields for McKay (44), O O’Neill (0-02) for Duffy (44), C McKeever for McParland (56), E Rafferty (1-00) for O’Hanlon (65)

Referee: P O’Sullivan (Kerry).