The Championship

Woeful shooting to blame for Armagh's second exit to Laois

 Armagh's Shea Heffron marking Laois's Donal Kingston
Columba O'Hare
Denis J. Croke

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifier Rd 1A Refixture: Laois 1-11 Armagh 1-10

ARMAGH departed Portlaoise on Saturday evening knowing they should be heading to Ennis next Saturday for round two of the qualifiers. Instead they we left rueing the raft of wides shot in the opening half.

In the opening 37 minutes of play, Armagh shot nine wides and dropped two or three efforts short in one of the most woeful displays of shooting witnessed in a championship game in a long time. Many of these effort were not just narrowly wide, but some were closer to the corner flag than the uprights.

This was something manager Kieran McGeeney was at odds to explain.

“I don’t know what happened, we just seemed dead in the first half. Our shot selection, our thought process was fairly poor. It’s a game we left behind us,” he said.

But that all changed in the second half when Armagh returned, full of renew vigour to reduce the deficit and take the lead midway through the half only for Laois to battle back.

“We had a good chat at half time, we changed a few things and changed it into a more running game,” said McGeeney.

One change which certainly worked was moving Rory Grugan in to the edge of the square.

“Moving Rory inside worked. With Pearse (Casey) inside (in the first half) we tried to lump too many high balls in and not try to place them,” he added.

However, Armagh’s revival was severely hampered when midfielder Aaron Findon was red-carded in the 67th minute following a discussion between the lineman and the referee.

Given the nature of what had gone on after the first game, was the team’s preparation hampered?

“I’m a firm believer games are won on grass and not around tables or on sheets of paper. When asked whether we wanted to object or not, we had no say in that. We just our heads down when we were asked for the refixture. Maybe there was a little bit of that in it in the start, a wee bit of deadness in the legs,” said the manager.

“I would hate to see anyone lose a game that they had won on the pitch. We simply fulfilled the fixture and if we had won it, we would have taken it with both hands. It probably papered over a lot of cracks. What happened the last day wasn’t very professional from beginning to end, but we were here to play football and administrators are here to administrate.”

Laois had wasted no time in getting off the mark as Damien O’Connor and Brendan Quigley linked up to place Niall Donoher for the opening point after just 30 seconds.

With Laois kicking into the stiff breeze both sides were to kick wides before David Conway doubled Laois’ advantage with a good point in the sixth minute.

Darren Strong made it a three point game before Michael McKenna opened Armagh’s account in the 14t minute. The corner forward won possession out to the left, jinked past two defenders and was desperately unlucky to see his lobbed effort beat the goalkeeper only to clip the wrong side of the cross bar.

Laois’ plans were upset in the 19th minute after Damien O’Connor was black carded for something no one in O’Moore Park apart from the referee and his linesman had seen.

Laois extended their lead thanks to points from David Conway and Paul Cahillane (free) before Conor Meredith repeated his goal scoring exploits in the original game. This time he gathered a long ball into the goalmouth, shook off the defender making room for himself to shoot low across Patrick Morrison into the bottom left corner.

This gave the home team a 1-5 to 0-1 lead at the interval and apparently cruising to victory.

That was all to change on the restart as Armagh emerged more energised and too the game to Laois. Half time substitute Colm Watters fisted a point and was quickly followed by Grugan, and Stefan Campbell (free).

John O’Loughlin and Campbell (free) swapped points before Grugan struck for Armagh’s goal in the 45th minute.

Campbell delivered a pin-point pas into the goalmouth where Grugan did exceptionally well to rise highest between Graham Brody and Mark Timmons, win possession, pivot and shoot to an empty net.

Only a point separated the sides now and they were level five minutes late, Grugan raising another white flag.

A Campbell free gave Armagh the lead for the fist time in the 55th minute and the advantage was doubled a minute later by Watters.

The game was in the boiling pot and it was Laois who reacted the best. Substitute Ross Munnelly narrowed the gap to the minimum and Cahillane’s free on the hour mark had them together again.

The tension was rising as Donie Kingston (free) and Brendan Donaghy exchanged points, before another substitute, Gary Walsh edged Laois back in front from a place ball with five minutes remaining.

Findon’s red card handed the impetus to Laois and they went two ahead through O’Loughlin.

When Campbell closed the gap to a single point approaching the 70 minute mark, the announcement came there was to be three minutes of time added on.

Armagh went in search of the equaliser but it was not to materialise and the final whistle was greeted by one of the loudest cheers hear in O’Moore Park in a long time.

MATCH STATS

Scorers
Laois:
C Meredith 1-0; D Conway, J O'Loughlin, R Munnelly (0-1f) 0-2 each; D Strong, P Cahillane (f), D Kingston (f), Niall Donoher, G Walsh (f) 0-1 each
Armagh: R Grugan 1-2; S Campbell 0-4 (0-3f); C Watters 0-2; B Donaghy, M McKenna 0-1 each

Teams
Laois:
G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, G Hanrahan; D Strong, K Lillis, D O’Connor; B Quigley, J O’Loughlin; N Donoher, P Cahillane, C Begley; C Meredith, D Kingston, D Conway.Subs: A Farrell for O'Connor (BC, 20), K Meaney for Donoher (47), R Munnelly for Conway (54), G Dillon for Strong (57m), G Walsh for Cahillane (63m), M Campion for Quigley (72m)
Armagh: P Morrison; S Heffron, B Donaghy, J McElroy; S O’Connell, A Mallon, S Sheridan; C Vernon, A Findon; T Kernan, R Grugan, A Forker; P Casey, S Campbell, M McKenna.Subs: N Grimley for Sheridan (6, inj), E McVerry for Casey (26), C Watters for Connell (ht), M Shields for McKenna (62).
Referee: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry)

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