Armagh primed to take first win against injury-ravaged Laois
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Armagh v Laois (tonight, the Athletic Grounds, 7pm, live on Setanta Sports)
IT’S still early days, but the losers tonight will have a lot of work to do to stay in Division Two.
Both of these injury-weakened sides lost last weekend after Jekyll and Hyde performances in their opening games: Armagh managed 0-8 in the first half against Meath but failed to score in the second. Meanwhile, Laois registered just one first half point on home ground against Galway, but outscored the Tribesmen 1-9 to 1-6 after the break.
Such patchy scoring form simply won’t cut it in Division Two and both sides are way short of full strength for tonight’s clash.
Laois travel north for the first time this year (they also visit Cavan and Fermanagh) without Ross Munnelly, John O’Loughlin, David Begley, Connor Meredith or Stephen Attride.
Meanwhile, Armagh are missing experienced defender Brendan Donaghy who went off injured against Meath and hasn’t recovered to face the O’Moore men.
Aaron Findon replaces Donaghy in the side named to start tonight. Findon partners Ethan Rafferty at midfield with Stephen Sheridan switching to the half-forward line and Stefan Forker going to right half-back. Aidan Forker has been named at centre half-back.
Despite their failure to score in the second half at Navan Armagh manager McGeeney has retained the forward unit and Micheal McKenna, Gavin McParland and Stefan Campbell (who scored 1-4 in Armagh’s 2-18 to 1-12 win against Laois two years’ ago) all produced promising spells before half-time.
As well as Donaghy, McGeeney is still without experienced defenders Ciaran McKeever, Andy Mallon and Paul Morgan while Crossmaglen forwards Jamie Clarke and Tony Kernan are unavailable.
Laois manager Mick Lillis has selection problems of his own. Going into the second game of his inter-county career former Portlaoise bainisteoir Lillis has to make-do and mend without Munnelly, O’Loughlin, David Begley, Meredith and Attride.
“They were five regulars from last year,” he said.
“We have a very young team and it’s a mountain at this stage to climb but all we can do is go with what we have.”
Donie Kingston and Paul Cahillane managed three points each in the second half against Galway but despite his side’s gutsy comeback, Lillis is resigned to watching the O’Moore men struggle to keep their heads above water in Division Two.
“To be honest it’s a very difficult League,” he said.
“Division Two is cut-throat and you’d be hoping that teams would take points off each other and that might balance it out a little bit.
“Tyrone will be favourites to beat everybody but you’d be hoping there’d be a balancing out of point because there’s an awful lot of good teams in it.”
He admits that losing tonight would leave his side with a lot of ground to make up, but at least the three-week break will allow him to get some of his injured players back on the pitch.
“If you lose your first two games obviously you’ve a mountain to climb and we’re both facing down the barrel of that,” he said
“It is an important game without a doubt.”
He added: “It’s a huge, huge game.
“Armagh are an extremely difficult team to play against and they’ll bring a real intensity. We just have to face it the best we can.”
Intensity wasn’t enough to get Armagh off to a winning start in Meath last weekend. After a promising first half in Navan with a strong wind at their backs, McGeeney changed his team to play a running game in the second half.
His tactics were sound enough but the gameplan didn’t work out - Armagh failed to score and Meath ended up winning by five.
But, Donaghy apart, McGeeney has kept faith with the side and Armagh should be capable of opening their account with victory tonight. Both counties have injury problems, but the loss of Munnelly, O’Loughlin and the rest means the Orchardmen have to start as favourites.
Armagh: M McNeice; S Heffron, C Vernon, R McCaughley; S Forker, A Forker, M Shields; A Findon, E Rafferty; S Campbell, M McKenna, S Sheridan; C Watters, C O'Hanlon, G McParland
Subs: P Morrison, S Connell, N McConville, N Grimley, O Mac Íomhair, J Hall, J McElroy, E McVerry, A McKay, J Feeney, K Dyas