Still energy in Armagh despite injury woes - Aidan O'Rourke
DESPITE an unprecedented amount of injuries, Armagh assistant Aidan O’Rourke has sensed a “renewed energy” about the Orchard camp ahead of Saturday’s Championship rematch with Laois.
Kieran McGeeney’s squad has been decimated - and has worsened considerably since their ‘loss’ to the O’Moore men 12 days ago.
The Central Competitions Controls Committee [CCCC] ordered the game to be replayed following a series of blunders by the match officials, including allowing Laois to use seven substitutions instead of the permitted six.
Asked has he ever experienced more injuries to a panel during his time involved in football, O’Rourke said: “Never. There has been a big turnover of players from the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final with Donegal.
“But an even better measure is the Division Three final against Fermanagh of last season: there are only four players left standing from that team. Eleven of them are either injured or gone – and that’s in a 14-month period.”
Ciaran McKeever, James Morgan, Ethan Rafferty, Mark Shields, Colm Watters and Ciaran O’Hanlon – who started in Armagh’s Ulster Championship defeat to Cavan at the end of last month – are all ruled out, while the list of long-term injuries hasn’t decreased in the interim.
Added to that, Stefan Forker and Pearse Casey, who have been on the periphery this season, are also ruled out through injury.
However, O’Rourke’s glass is half full as the Dromintee man has been impressed by the atmosphere in the camp after they were handed a second crack at Laois.
“In some ways it simplifies it because you have what you have and you squeeze the best out that,” O’Rourke said. “We’ll try and cover the weaknesses and maximise the strengths we do have.
“There’s definitely a renewed energy about the players because when you work all year for something and it’s taken away from you, you have a long time to wait to get another chance.
“But all the things the players could have done better the first day, they now have another opportunity to address that, which nobody else ever gets. They’ve a chance to be better than the last day.”
While the bookmakers’ odds were even enough for the first encounter, Armagh’s odds have lengthened significantly ahead of Saturday’s replay (9/4).
“It’s a reasonable position to take [that Laois will win the replay], but we still have some very capable footballers and if we get over the line we could have two, three or four starters coming back on line after that. You just don’t know. It’s a tough ask on Saturday.”
O’Rourke added: “It’s been a challenging year, more so for the players because there's been a lot of changes; there were so many changes between the Cavan Championship game and the first Laois game, and now there are more changes for this week’s game. So that’s difficult for the players in terms of relationships on the pitch and establishing patterns of play.
“But the players aren’t strangers either. The new players coming into the team have plenty to offer.”
The Armagh management team kept their counsel in the aftermath of the first game which Laois won by three points. Laois sub Shane Murphy was introduced for the black-carded Brendan Quigley in stoppage-time which was the team’s seventh change.
But, as O’Rourke explained, there were other mistakes made by the match-day officials at O’Moore Park.
“We would have been fairly pissed off with the officiating of the game. I mean, what’s new?
“But it was particularly bad. There was the Tony Kernan substitution [that Armagh didn’t want to make but were without him for 14 minutes of the second half], but Laois made a substitution in the second half, and the boy who came on played a one-two with the boy who was supposed to come off and the ball went over our bar.
“He didn’t even come off at that point - he played on. And then obviously there was the Quigley substitution. We also had a point, when Tony Kernan kicked the ball over the bar, which was given wide – and they went down and stuck the ball in the net.
“The reason they got a fast kick-out away for their goal was because we had two or three boys remonstrating with the umpire and linesman. We had a player injured too and we were trying to get the play stopped. But, listen, when you lose the game you’re not going to start crying about the result. There was no point in saying anything at the time.”