McGeeney ready to face music as Armagh bow out
Laois 1-10 Armagh 0-10 All-Ireland SFC Round 1a
Portlaoise has seen better games, this only marginally rescued by an exciting finish as Armagh came hunting for an equaliser after moving to within a point of Laois with eight minutes left. They had a few chances but Laois had some too, before the home team clinched victory in injury-time with two relieving points.
They came from substitutes, Jamie Farrell kicking the first with a tidy left-footed shot and then the seasoned Ross Munnelly applying a typically deft finish to send Laois into the second round of the qualifiers. Armagh, backed by the majority in a crowd estimated at scarcely a thousand, are out of the championship after another disappointing season.
Afterwards, Kieran McGeeney, whose side fell by eight points to Cavan in the Ulster quarter-finals, said he was ready for whatever criticism heads his way. "It was a tough day and it'll probably be a tough week but that's part and parcel of it," he said. "If they were giving out pats on the back, I'd take them but if they are giving abuse, I'm well fit for it."
His tenure has not been a happy one and Armagh, relegated to Division 3 in the spring, are a shadow of the side he played for. In the second half, Laois, beaten by Dublin two weeks ago, made a more honest effort to win, and while it ended nervously, they were full value for their victory.
Armagh showed little in the way of attacking football after going in at the interval on level terms, 0-7 to 1-4, the goal coming in the 16th minute when Conor Meredith raced through the cover and sent a screaming shot to the far top corner. Ultimately, it was the difference between the sides.
That score was doubly depressing for Armagh as it came while defender Mark Shields was receiving attention on the pitch and about to be replaced by James Morgan.
McGeeney made his frustrations known to the referee but Armagh looked well in contention through the first half, and had a goal chance near the interval when a neat interchange between Aidan Forker and Rory Grugan prised an opening for Forker, but his shot was well saved by Graham Brody in the Laois goal.
Stefan Campbell hit three first-half frees while Laois, with 13 men in their own half for much of the opening 35 minutes, managed a solitary point from play. It came when a quick free caught Armagh napping and wing-back Darren Strong stole up the field to take possession and finish well.
The visitors kicked good scores through Grugan and Forker, and Grugan set up Michael McKenna before half time for a goal opportunity but he elected to fist over the bar. The score levelled the match for the fifth, and last, time.
In the absence of John O'Loughlin, suspended after being sent off against Dublin, Brendan Quigley showed admirable leadership in the middle of the field and tracked back at vital times to lend a hand in defence.
After the interval, Armagh's scoring dried up and failed to raise a flag for 19 minutes before McKenna finally got them off the mark. By then Laois had grown in confidence and were doing most of the pressing, rewarded with three points in the opening 15 minutes - two from Donie Kingston and one from David Conway, who had a fine match until substituted. Laois defended well and had little of the indiscipline in the tackle that plagued their opening Leinster win over Wicklow.
They also made smart use of the bench, with the points scored by Munnelly and Farrell matched by a calmly executed free from Gary Walsh, who came on with 12 minutes to go. Walsh had been cut from the squad after showing his anger when substituted against Dublin but was subsequently recalled. His score was a timely tonic approaching the hour mark, restoring Laois' three-point advantage.
But they could not kill Armagh off and a Grugan free was quickly followed by Feeney's point, leaving plenty of time for an equaliser. The scoreboard stood unchanged until injury-time, with both sides guilty of missed chances. Andy Mallon went close but his effort dropped short and Feeney had another shot that tailed wide. Munnelly, Colm Begley and Farrell were also wide of the mark and Kingston failed to make the distance with another attempt. In the first of three minutes of injury-time, Farrell split the Armagh posts, leaving the visitors in need of a goal. It never looked likely, and Munnelly rose his arm in triumph with the day's final score.
Paddy Morrison justified his selection in goal for Armagh with a fine exhibition of safe handling and pinpoint kicking, but the team didn't have enough penetration at the other end, reflected in a return of three points in the second half.
Both teams will be playing Division 3 football next year but Laois, at least, have something more to play for in the meantime. A year ago they blew an eight-point lead when losing to Antrim in the first round of the qualifiers at this venue. With a kind draw, they are capable of progressing further.
Armagh made it to July 12 last year before being eliminated by Galway. They are regressing and there appears no immediate solution. Whether McGeeney will be in charge when they begin life in Division 3 remains to be seen. He had tough times as a player but he never had anything like this.
Scorers: Laois - D Kingston 0-4 (3f), C Meredith 1-0, P Cahillane (f), D Conway (f), D Strong, G Walsh (f), J Farrell, R Munnelly 0-1 each. Armagh - S Campbell 0-3 (3f), R Grugan (1f), M McKenna 0-2 each, A Forker, M Shields, J Feeney 0-1 each.
Laois - G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, G Hanrahan; D Strong, K Lillis, D O'Connor; B Quigley, K Meaney; N Donoher, P Cahillane, C Begley; C Meredith, D Kingston, D Conway. Subs: A Farrell for Strong (43); J Farrell for Meaney (50); M Campion for Donoher (52); R Munnelly for Conway (54); G Walsh for Cahillane (58); G Dillon for Meredith (70); S Murphy for Quigley (black card 72).
Armagh - P Morrison; S Heffron, B Donaghy, M Shields; J Mc Elroy, C McKeever, A Mallon; C Vernon, A Findon; T Kernan, R Grugan, A Forker; M McKenna, S Campbell, N Grimley.
Subs: J Morgan for Shields (inj 16 ); J Feeney for Forker (45); G McParland for Grimley (50); J Hall for Kernan (54); T Kernan for McKenna (58).
Ref - A Nolan (Wicklow).