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All-Ireland SFC Round 1A: End of the road for Armagh against Laois

Kieran McGeeney. Pic by John Merry

Laois 1-11 Armagh 1-10

Perhaps one of the greatest ever fight backs in the second half after an abysmal first but Armagh lost out to Laois by a single point.

It was a nail-biting, adrenaline-fuelled finish to their All-Ireland SFC qualifier and a bitterly disappointing end to the afternoon.

An absolutely amazing transformation by the Orchard County where all players played their part; whatever was said in the dressing room at half time had an effect, but it just was not enough.

In the first half it looked as if Armagh would fall to en embarrassing and humiliating defeat after their woeful early exchanges.

The CCCC decision to reply the match after Laois were found to have used too many substitutes in last month’s meeting looked like leaving Armagh with further egg on their face; it looked like being their worst ever championship performance.

But a change of role for Rury Grugan in the second half changed the direction for Armagh, after chance after chance had been squandered in the first.

There were opportunities from well-placed and scoreable areas but there was no confidence or conviction in finishing. The attacking football which would have been expected was not there, the hunger and desire kept at bay until the second half.

Laois opened the scoring almost immediately thanks to Niall Donoher and went on to add two more.

Both sides missed early chances with four wides each and it took Armagh a full 15 minutes to score that all-important first point, which came courtesy of Miceal McKenna.

Laois were the better team on all fronts, their attacking qualities superior, and the frustration from the fans was evident and justified.

Twenty minutes in Damiem O’Connor – easily Laois’ best player – was black carded, and he was replaced by Alan Farrell.

David Conway made it four for the O’Moore County men when he sent a great shot over the bar from an acute angle, and as play switched ends Charlie Vernon shot unbelievably wide.

It was five up for the home side when Laois were awarded a free on the 21 yard line after Aaron Findon dragged a man down, and Paul Cahillane’s left-foot shot went high over the bar.

Another Laois free, from Paul Cahillane, right in front of the Armagh goal but somehow it went wide this time.

Conor Meredith – whose goal was the difference last time round – found the back of the net again. It came out of nowhere, Merdith weaving round Joe McIlroy to side foot it home after 32 minutes.

Patrick Morrison was called on to prevent further blushes a short time later and he pulled off a fantastic save.

Half-time: Laois 1-5 Armagh 0-1

They only managed to kick one point in the whole of the first half but Armagh added three in the first five minutes of the second, giving the fans hope and a much-needed lift.

Armagh could have had a goal with plenty of support in the area but settled for a point when Colm Watters, just on for the second half, fisted over the bar.

Another attack with intent for Armagh and Joe McIlroy found Rory Grugan who finished the move off with no mistakes this time. And almost immediately Stefan Campbell reduced the deficit with another well-taken point.

John O’Loughlin pulled another back for Laois when he fired high over the bar and, when Miceal McKenna was taken down, Stefan Campbell made the free count.

And then the joy, a goal for Armagh.

McGeeney had moved Rory Grugan from centre half forward to full forward line and the tactic paid off, as the Ballymacnab man scored a fantastic goal – leaving just a point between the sides – when he practically walked the ball into the net.

A classy move from Armagh and it looked like Armagh might have a second goal, a great sweep in from Stefan Forker, who found Grugan and laid it on for Tony Kernan, but his left foot effort went just wide.

A fantastic point from Rory Grugan and it was all level – Armagh had just accounted for Laois’ entire first half tally after only 15 minutes of the second half.

With 54 minutes on the clock, Stefan Campbell shot over as Armagh took the lead and then Colm Watters added another; it looked like Laois had just fallen apart and Armagh were winning all the breaks.

But Ross Munnelly pulled another back for Laois and when Conor Meredith was dragged down on the corner of the box, that same man made it all square from the resultant free.

Donal Kingston put Laois back in the driving seat with seven minutes to go when he fired high over the bar, but full-back Brendan Donaghy drew it level again with another point for Armagh.

Laois were awarded a free and Gary Walsh converted to make it 1-10 to 1-09.

In the last minutes Stefan Campbell’s left-foot shot sailed over the bar.

But it was not enough; Armagh – who were a different team in the second half – are out.

Laois will now take on Clare in the second round at Cusack Park, Ennis, next weekend.

 

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