Battling Laois braced for visit of Division Two pacesetters Armagh
OUT of the frying pan and into the fire for newly-promoted Laois who opened their season against Connacht champions Roscommon and continue on Sunday against early pacesetters Armagh.
Kieran McGeeney’s men annihilated understrength Cavan in their opener but they could find Laois – managed by former Kerry midfielder Mike Quirke – a tougher nut to crack at O’Moore Park.
The second tier new boys trailed by five points with time running out against the Rossies but they rallied late in the game and goals from Evan O’Carroll and Kieran Lillis saw them leave Dr Hyde Park with a valuable point. Quirke, who took over from John Sugrue, the man who led Laois to consecutive promotions, felt his side deserved a share of the spoils.
“The two goals late on might give the impression that it was a bit of a smash-and-grab but we played well enough throughout the game to get something out of it,” said four-time All-Ireland winner Quirke.
“We kicked a lot of wides and left a lot of scores after us so it was a fair enough reflection for us to get something out of it.”
His side scored four marks (one each for Lillis, Colm Murphy, O’Carroll and Ross Munnelly) against the Rossies but Quirke says the new ‘advanced mark’ rule is not an integral part of the Laois gameplan.
“We had three or four of them but it’s not a massive part of our play,” he said.
“We have a couple of guys who are very capable kickers and they are smart enough to play the ball when they see something easy inside.
“The next day we mightn’t get a whole pile of them but we got a few against Roscommon.”
Having come up from Division Four to Division Two in two seasons, it was vitally important that Laois got away to a positive start. Quirke said the performance, not the result, was the most pleasing thing for him.
“Division Two is one of the most competitive divisions we have, particularly with what the outcome is (the second tier Championship) if you don’t stay in the division,” he said.
“Every team is under pressure to get points on the board and going away to Roscommon, playing a team that was in the Super8s last year and played in Division One and were Connacht champions, was a tough way to start the campaign.
“So it’s great to get something on the board.
“The performance over the whole game was the most pleasing thing. It was great to keep fighting away until the end and to get the result out of it at the finish but, over the course of the game, I was just happy with the performance.
“We played well and we were probably very unlucky to be in the position we found ourselves late on, having conceded a penalty and going five points behind. To get something out of it and the way they performed were the most encouraging things as well as the fighting spirit.”
Armagh were caught by late comebacks from Kildare and Clare in their first two League games last season but Cavan never looked like mounting a comeback in Saturday night’s opener at the Athletic Grounds.
“They looked very impressive,” said Quirke.
“I know Cavan are after losing a couple of players but you wouldn’t have expected Armagh to put them to the sword in the way that they did. Up front (Conor) Turbitt (1-6 on debut) and a few guys look really, really sharp for the end of January.
“It’s going to be a big ask for us and if they can maintain that kind of form Armagh look like a team that are capable of getting out of the division. It’s obviously early days, it’s one game and you’ll need a couple of games to see where every team is at but they definitely looked very impressive against Cavan.
Quirke, who doesn’t expect to have Colm Begley fit for Sunday’s match, added: “It’s Kieran McGeeney’s sixth year now and I thought this most striking thing was the way they were moving the football.
“The great Armagh team he was a part of were so famous for that. They want to get the ball and kick it into those forwards who will fight and scrap and win ball which they did. It’s great to see that kind of football coming back and teams taking a chance to kick the ball and move the ball quickly.”