Jekyll and Hyde performance proves very costly
● All-Ireland Football Round 1A Qualifiers Replay – Laois 1-11 Armagh 1-10
The mental state of both counties was the topic of conversation before this re-fixture after it was discovered that Laois had used one sub too many in the original game, which had ended in a 1-10 to 0-10 victory for the O’Moore County.
Laois burst out of the traps whilst Armagh seemed totally disinterested in that opening 35 minutes. Were it not for the fact that the home side only converted 6 of their 20 attempts at goal in that opening half the match would have surely been over as a contest even though it looked that way at the short whistle as Laois led 1-5 to 0-1. Showing little appetite for the battle the visitors, who were also guilty of some dreadful early misses, had a solitary14th minute point by Micheál McKenna, whose delicate lob bounced over off the crossbar, to show for their opening 35 minutes efforts?
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney replaced injured defensive duo Ciaran McKeever and Mark Shields with Senan Connell and Stephen Sheridan and named Pearse Casey as a late replacement for Niall Grimley. Indeed the three replacements wound up being replaced by Niall Grimley, Eugene McVerry and Colm Watters and the injured Shields getting introduced instead of McKenna. Laois manager Mick Lillis restored the suspended John O’Loughlin to his starting line-up and he was to go on to contribute 2 points towards their victory.
Niall Donoher set the tone with a point after 31 seconds as the very influential David Conway added another and then set up Darren Strong for a third before Armagh opened their account. Laois then had defender Damien O’Connor black-carded with Alan Farrell replacing him but it failed to disrupt their momentum as Conway notched the score of the game before Paul Cahillane slotted an easy free for point number 5.
The nail in the Armagh coffin looked to have been applied three minutes before the break as the goalscorer from the original game Conor Meredith showed good strength and composure to fire low to the Armagh net to make it 1-5 to 0-1when Kerry referee Paul O Sullivan blew for half-time
Armagh were a completely different proposition in the second half, improving beyond recognition and showing great character as they mounted a terrific comeback. Half-time substitute Colm Watters sparked the Armagh revival fisting over the opening score of the half. Further points from Rory Grugan and two from Stefan Campbell left a green flag between them before Cahillane opened the second half home account. But Armagh kept piling on the pressure and were rewarded big time when Grugan fired to the net in the 45th minute to reduce the deficit to the minimum. The Ballymacnab goalscorer turned provider 4 minutes later setting up Tony Kernan for a goal opportunity which went the wrong side of the upright into the side netting. A huge let off for Laois and a possible game changed moment for Armagh missed. Still the Orchard boys piled on the pressure as Grugan brought them level before Campbell gave them the lead for the first time and it was quickly doubled as Watters added his second point.to give Armagh a 1-8 to 1-6 lead with 12 minutes remaining.
A clearly rattled Laois brought in veteran Ross Munnelly into the fray with telling effect just like Armagh substitute Watters he helped himself to two points to restore parity as the excitement mounted. Donie Kingston edged Laois back in front with back in favour Gary Walsh doubling their advantage. Armagh full back Brendan Donaghy who had a powerful game ventured forward to pinch a point which halved the deficit but Armagh were sent reeling when Aaron Findon was sent off on a straight red card for an off the ball incident, three minutes from time. John O’Loughlin fisted the hosts into a 1-11 to 1-9 lead but Campbell reduced it back to one and then saw a leveller drop just short which would have forced a deserved extra-time for Armagh.
If ever there was a game of two halves this was it. Laois will get to play Clare in Round 2A of the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers whilst Armagh will rue their Jekyll and Hyde performance which has cost them a visit to the Banner County and continued participation in the championship. The second half performance meant at least that Armagh exited the championship on a positive note and had they taken their chances on this occasion they would still be in the title race. A measured look round to see who or what may benefit the current set-up or what is the best way forward instead of knee jerk reactions advocating dismissals without any positive solutions. There is a series of club championship football to be looked at, the possibility of retirements from the present squad makes it important to be on the lookout for new talent. Whatever happened at half-time in the dressing room at Portlaoise needs to be built upon for 2017.
Armagh – P Morrison; S Heffron, B Donaghy (0-1), J McElroy; A Mallon, C Vernon, S Connell; A Findon, S Sheridan; T Kernan, R Grugan (1-2), A Forker; M McKenna (0-1), S Campbell (0-4, 3f), P Casey. Subs: N Grimley for S Sheridan, E McVerry for P Casey, C Watters (0-2) for S Connell, M Shields for M McKenna.
Laois – G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, G Hanrahan; D Strong (0-1), K Lillis, D O’Connor; B Quigley, J O’Loughlin (0-2); C Begley, P Cahillane (0-1f), N Donoher (0-1); C Meredith (1-0), D Kingston (0-1f), D Conway (0-2). Subs: A Farrell for D O’Connor (BC), K Meaney for N Donoher, R Munnelly (0-2, 1f) for D Conway, G Dillon for D Strong, G Walsh (0-1f) for P Cahillane, M Campion for B Quigley.
Referee – P O’Sullivan.