Wednesday 21 March 2018

Laois get numbers right to repel Armagh's second-half rally

Laois 1-11 - Armagh 1-10

John O’Loughlin of Laois celebrates. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
John O’Loughlin of Laois celebrates. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile News desk

This was a bizarre game befitting of the circumstances that brought it about. It ended with no change from the opening joust, Laois as victors, progressing to the second round of the 'A' group of qualifiers.

There were no issues with subs on this occasion but there was excitement galore, eventually, and despite some shocking wides, a number of excellent scores too.

Rory Grugan of Armagh is tackled by Mark Timmons of Laois. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Rory Grugan of Armagh is tackled by Mark Timmons of Laois. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Laois looked on course to stroll to victory at half-time as they led by seven points but, in the end, they had to come from behind after they withstood a terrific second-half onslaught from Armagh, who only registered one point in the first half.

John O'Loughlin's return to the middle was an obvious advantage for Mick Lillis' outfit while David Conway was on fire in the forward line, managing to find space despite the litany of Armagh players shuffling back to cover.

Read more: Murphy a law unto himself in Sligo rout

The Ulster men had to do without Ciaran McKeever and Mark Shields from their last encounter, although Shields did make a brief cameo appearance, as well as a lengthy list of walking wounded built up over the campaign.

Brendan Quigley of Laois in action against Charlie Vernon of Armagh. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Brendan Quigley of Laois in action against Charlie Vernon of Armagh. Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

They shot nine wides in the first half alone, although Laois were profligate themselves with eight inaccurate attempts and two more dropped that short.

Niall Donoher had a point for Laois after 31 seconds. Conway added another and set up Darren Strong for a third before Armagh got their only score of the half with a 15th-minute point by Micheál McKenna, whose delicate lob bounced over off the crossbar.

Conway fired a brilliant score and Paul Cahillane slotted an easy free before Conor Meredith showed good strength and composure to fire low to the Armagh net three minutes before the break to make it 1-5 to 0-1 at half-time.

Armagh left the dressing room early and must have done so on the back of some stern words from Kieran McGeeney given the completely different level of intensity they resumed with.

That manifested itself without possession but also, and perhaps more significantly, when they had the ball, with two or three strong-running options for the ball carrier. It was in stark comparison to their predictable and sluggish approach in the opening half.

Rory Grugan's switch to full-forward had a huge impact too, as did the introduction of Colm Watters and they were level by the 50th minute. Five minutes later, they were in front.

Grugan fired a goal in the 45th minute to give Armagh's efforts real momentum but, crucially, Tony Kernan blazed wide from a glorious position having been set up by Grugan four minutes later. Yet Armagh kicked on with points from Grugan, Stefan Campbell and influential Watters.

Laois showed their own character though and the experienced Ross Munnelly came off the bench to settle their nerves with two points.

Armagh were dealt a blow with the sending off of Aaron Findon three minutes from time for an off the ball incident and further points from Gary Walsh and John O'Loughlin edged the hosts home.

Scorers - Laois: C Meredith 1-0; D Conway, R Munnelly (1f), J O'Loughlin 0-2 each; P Cahillane (f), N Donoher, D Strong, D Kingston (f), G Walsh (f) 0-1 each.

Armagh: R Grugan 1-2; S Campbell 0-4(3fs); C Watters 0-2; M McKenna, B Donaghy 0-1 each.

Laois: G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, G Hanrahan; D Strong, K Lillis, D O'Connor; B Quigley, J O'Loughlin; C Begley, P Cahillane, N Donoher; C Meredith, D Kingston, D Conway. Subs: A Farrell for O'Connor (BC, 21), K Meaney for Donoher (47), R Munnelly for Conway (54), G Dillon for Strong (57), G Walsh for Cahillane (64) M Campion for Quigley (70+3).

Armagh: P Morrison; S Hefron, B Donaghy, J McElroy; A Mallon, C Vernon, S Connell; A Findon, S Sheridan; T Kernan, R Grugan, A Forker; M McKenna, S Campbell, P Casey.

Subs: N Grimley for Sheridan inj (6), E McVerry for Casey (27), C Watters for Connell (h-t), M Shields for McKenna (63).

Referee: P O'Sullivan (Kerry)

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