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Championship lifeline for Armagh

1st Round qualifiers replay – Armagh v Laois on Saturday 2nd July

Armagh have been handed an All-Ireland championship lifeline following their 1-10 to 0-10 defeat at the hands of Laois in Portlaoise. The midlanders had already used six substitutes when manager Mick Lillis introduced Shane Murphy in place of the black-carded Brendan Quigley three minutes into injury time which took their tally to 7 instead of the permitted 6.

Expulsion, a fine or a rematch were the options available but Croke Park ordered a rematch fixed for next Saturday afternoon at 3pm in Portlaoise. Clare await the winner in the Round 2A Qualifiers.

This bolt out of the blue has left mixed feelings amongst Armagh supporters and thrown the managers and player’s plans right out the window now that a “second chance” has been given. Students amongst the squad will have had plans already made as to where they will be spending the Summer so the already depleted squad assembled for the last game with Laois will be even more decimated for next Saturday.

Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever suffered a broken foot playing for his club and is ruled out of action as is fellow defenders James Morgan and Mark Shields also through injury from the players who played the last day. Having selected 21 different players to start their 2 previous championship games it looks as if Kieran McGeeney will be adding a few new faces for the third championship outing of the year. Rumour mill has it that some of the county minors who lost out in extra-time to Derry have been added to the squad as well as some “experienced heads” approached to help the cause, such is the situation facing the manager with regards to the availability of numbers. Saturday may also possibly be the swansong for one of Armagh’s greatest ever defenders Andy Mallon which should entice Orchard supporters to attend a game judging by the last day out is well within Armagh’s capability of winning.

Laois on the other hand will be able to welcome back John McLoughlin from suspension. Although Saturday’s 1-10 to 0-10 has technically been deemed null and void because of Murphy’s introduction, John O’Loughlin has been deemed to have satisfied his one-match suspension in missing the game and will be available on Saturday week.

Replays are nearly always won by the team who learn most from the drawn encounter. In this case the simple message from both managers will be to make sure that you make the most of the chances you create as both teams were guilty of missed opportunities.

The “big question” hanging over Armagh for Saturday is will they be able to rise to the occasion after the disappointment of the loss to Laois. The added injury list is a further hindrance to what has to be an already fragile state of mind. One minute you are out, the next you have to grab a lifeline that some feel is not deserved under the circumstances. Laois broke the rules not Armagh so the Orchard County are entitled to their rematch although the paltry attendance at the first game could be even less for the re-match. The whole issue is still a bit surreal amongst both sets of supporters who, as the match draws closer, might embrace it for what it is-an opportunity for either team to prolong their championship season following an awful lot of hard graft already put in.

The song might say that “it’s a long, long way from Clare to here” but a week ago the possibility of going to Clare did not exist for Armagh, Saturday offers the opportunity to make that journey and should not be sneered at no matter the circumstances.