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Armagh's rookies look up against it

Published 02/02/2013

By Kenny Archer

MANAGERS usually know plenty about the opposition and Armagh native Justin McNulty has an advantage - but even he may not be too familiar with some of the Orchard county players.

Paul Grimley's first League selection has experience around the middle of the field but hardly anywhere else.

A combination of injuries and absences for various reasons means that only eight of the players who started their shock Qualifier defeat away to Roscommon are listed to line out in Laois.

In almost complete contrast, there's only ONE personnel alteration to the O'Moore county side that reached last season's All-Ireland quarter-finals and troubled Dublin - and that's arguably an improvement with Donie Kingston coming in at right corner-forward for Damien O'Connor. Against an attack that also includes Ross Munnelly, Padraig Clancy, and Colm Kelly the major concern for Armagh is that there's a completely new-look full-back line, namely Mark Shields, James Donnelly, and Gary McCooey; Brendan Donaghy and Andy Mallon will both be sorely missed back there.

At least there's a strong half-back line, with skipper Ciaran McKeever flanked by Kevin Dyas and Finnian Moriarty, while the midfield is a powerful pairing of Kieran Toner and James Lavery, the latter having played as a sub against Roscommon.

Brian Mallon is another experienced change from that Hyde Park outfit and his know-how will be much-needed as Ethan Rafferty and Stefan Forker also come into a generally young attack.

The upside about the forward division is the undoubted talent there, notably of Caolan Rafferty and Gavin McParland, both of whom enjoyed Championship game-time in both Armagh's matches last year.

Yet overall it does not bode well for Armagh that there's not a single player in the starting side from the two dominant clubs of recent years, Crossmaglen Rangers and Grimley's own Pearse Og. The latter is the only club to prevent Cross winning the county title since 1996 - triumphing themselves in 2009 - and they've also been in three more of the past six finals.

The absence of the Crossmaglen contingent cannot be helped as they prepare for the All-Ireland club semi-final in a fortnight's time, but Armagh could do with the likes of city men Andy Mallon and Anto and Paul Duffy.

Laois won last year's same fixture by five points, albeit helped by the controversial half-time dismissal of visiting captain McKeever after an incident in the tunnel area. The Cullyhanna man was allegedly subjected to verbal provocation by an opponent and without him Armagh were in disarray, going from three points down at the break to eight behind, before a Caolan Rafferty goal narrowed the gap.

Tonight will test the newer faces' ability to step onto the senior stage. Indeed this is arguably the toughest League game for the Orchardmen for several reasons. Laois were in the top flight along with them last season and Monaghan and Meath were among their Qualifier victims last year.

Additionally, after this Armagh have four home matches - and they may have to look to them for their first points. TEAMS Laois: E Culliton; C Healy, K Meaney, P O'Leary; D Strong, J O'Loughlin, C Boyle; B Quigley, C Begley; R Munnelly, G Walsh, B Sheehan; D Kingston, P Clancy, C Kelly.

Armagh: P McAvoy; M Shields, J Donnelly, G McCooey; K Dyas, C McKeever (capt.), F Moriarty; K Toner, J Lavery; C Rafferty, A Forker, E Rafferty; G McParland, S Forker, B Mallon.