Reserves of strength give Laois extra kick
Laois 1-10 Armagh 0-10
In a frantic and tense finale, injury-time points from substitutes Jamie Farrell and Ross Munnelly earned Laois a deserved victory in the opening round of the qualifiers in Portlaoise. The football for long periods was drearily defensive, both sides piling numbers into their own half, but it ended dramatically: with Armagh desperately searching for the score that might force extra-time, Laois found the extra kick to see it home.
They made productive use of their bench, with the discarded, and later recalled, Gary Walsh also coming in to score a beautifully-struck free just before the hour mark. Armagh took until the 54th minute to score in the second half, having gone in at the interval on level terms, but a Rory Grugan free, and then one from play by Joe Feeney, left only a point between the teams with eight minutes remaining.
There followed the game's most absorbing phase, Laois needing another score to breathe more easily and Armagh doing all they could to muster an equaliser. Successive efforts from Munnelly, Colm Begley and Farrell went wide, before Andy Mallon had a shot that looked on its way, but Graham Brody fisted it clear. Donal Kingston had one that dropped short and Feeney was wide with a shot for Armagh, before a Laois break saw Farrell finish coolly with his left foot as three minutes of injury time were announced. Two points looked plenty, but Munnelly made sure.
Laois, well beaten by Dublin two weeks earlier, started without the suspended John O'Loughlin, but they had some excellent performances throughout the field. In the second half in particular, they began to dictate the flow of the game and Armagh spent much of it pressed into their own half. Up front, Kingston and David Conway did heroic work while outnumbered most of the time and Conor Meredith put in a massive shift, working back the field and also providing the game's only goal, a screamer in the 16th minute. The goal was slightly controversial as Armagh had a player, Mark Shields, down injured and waiting to be replaced and Meredith made most of the numerical weakness. The Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney made his frustration known to the referee, but Armagh had a break in play earlier when they might have sent on Shields' eventual replacement, James Morgan.
Armagh made six changes from the eight-point loss to Cavan in the Ulster quarter-finals, but they were poor after half-time, their best play coming in the opening half, when they scored 0-7 to Laois' 1-4 and did most of the attacking. Paddy Morrison justified his selection in goal with a fine performance of safe handling and pinpoint kicking. With Laois bringing 13 men behind the ball, they had to be patient when trying to pick off scores.
They breached the cover a few times, but could not get a goal. In the 31st minute, Aidan Forker had room, but his shot was well saved by Brody. Stefan Campbell hit three first-half frees, while Laois' solitary first-half point from play came when a quick free caught Armagh napping and wing-back Darren Strong finished well.
Laois made the more persuasive start to the second half, Conway winning a converted free for Kingston and then scoring one himself from play, before Kingston's only score from play in the 49th minute had them three points clear with Armagh still to score. McKenna finally broke their duck with almost 20 minutes played and the vocal band of followers felt a surge of optimism. But Laois did enough when it mattered to earn a warranted passage to the next round. They have plenty work to do, but they're still standing.
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 0-2 (1f), M McKenna 0-2, A Forker, M Shields, J Feeney 0-1.
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 mins); 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 mins); J Feeney for Forker (45); G McParland for Grimley (50); J Hall for Kernan (54); T Kernan for McKenna 58).
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)
Sunday Indo Sport