Armagh need to be unleashed
● Qualifier Round 1: Laois v Armagh in Porlaois Saturday 18th June at 3.30pm
The top tie in the first round of the qualifiers sees Armagh travel to Portlaoise to take on a Laois side that lost out to Dublin 2-21 to 2-10 in the Leinster Championship. Armagh, still recovering from their 2-16 to 0-14 loss to Cavan at Breffni Park, could have drawn much easier opponents than the O’Moore County.
The counties have already met this year in Division Two of the Allianz National Football League with Laois emerging victorious 1-13 to 0-15 from the Athletic Grounds. Thirteen of the Armagh panel that took part in the League encounter with Laois took part in the championship match with Cavan, Paul Courtney, James Morgan, Andy Mallon, Ciaran McKeever, Brendan Donaghy, Rory Grugan and Tony Kernan were the players missing in the league. The Laois panel of players that played Dublin in the championship housed 15 players who featured in the League meeting with Armagh.
Of their respective championship defeats Laois was the more honourable in that they were 11 points down in the first half when they had a man sent off but rallied gamely in the second half ending with a very creditable 2-10 to their credit against the top team in the country. After the opening quarter Cavan were the superior side in Breffni but left Armagh in the game on the scoreboard right up to the last 10 minutes.
Laois will be without half forward John O’Loughlin who was sent off against the Dubs and corner forward Gary Walsh. Ballylin clubman Walsh, who opened the scoring in their Leinster Championship match, was taken off and reacted angrily using a few choice words towards management who saw fit to drop him from the panel supposedly for his outburst.
They will also be without Evan O’Carroll for their All-Ireland SFC qualifier against Armagh following his departure to the US for the remainder of the summer.
Armagh will be without Ethan Rafferty (broken knuckle) and await news of Ciaran O’Hanlon, Stefan Forker, Colm Watters and Pearse Murphy all whom picked up injuries playing for their clubs a thing which attracted a lot of negative air and print time over the last fortnight. Rumours that top marksman Stefan Campbell is heading stateside remain just that but his loss would be sorely felt. Stefan notched 0-8 against Cavan and scored 0-6 against Laois in the League. The top Armagh scorer was only joined by one other forward Tony Kernan (0-2) in that Ulster championship defeat so his inclusion or exclusion is going to have a big say on proceedings.
Another big talking point leading into this match is whether” goalkeeper” Paul Courtney will be between the sticks for Armagh. Outfielder Paul did nothing wrong against Cavan but it was his unorthodox style of goalkeeping that raised all the eyebrows. Conor Merdith and Brendan Quigley form a formidable midfield partnership for Laois whilst Aaron Findon looks the likely replacement in this sector for Ethan Rafferty on the Armagh side with Stephen Sheridan another option.
Laois are always formidable opponents especially in their own back yard as they have the ability to score well but are lacking in defence. The O’Moore County notched 2-10 against the Dubs and 1-13 against Armagh in the League. Donie Kingston, Evan O’Connell, combined with Portlaoise duo Paul Cahilane and Gareth Dillon carry the bulk of their scoring threat.
If Armagh are to advance to the second round of the qualifiers they will need to take a more offensive rather than defensive approach to Saturday’s qualifier. Laois defensive sextet of Damien O’Connor, Mark Timmons, Paul Cotter, Stephen Attride, Darren Strong, Colm Begley who fronted goalkeeper Graham Brody showed plenty of vulnerability early on against the Dubs by after the concession of two early goals was able to stem the flow of the major scores but could not stem the tide of the minor scores from reaching an impressive 21.
Armagh are a better team than they showed against Cavan but could be doing with a Derry League approach to the game where it’s all or nothing. The championship season for both teams is on the line on Saturday so it will be who wants it the most? Armagh lacked the necessary drive and passion normally associated with championship football and a repeat of the same will only yield one result-defeat.
Orchard supporters will not be too worried about game plans or anything else as long as they see a performance of commitment, courage and a will to win from their team.
Expectations in the Orchard County are very low, so a victory on Saturday will come as a huge boost and also prolong a Summer of expectation. If Armagh unleashes a positive attacking approach on the home side they can reap the rewards of their endeavours with a place in the second round of the qualifiers draw.