Armagh gift Laois victory

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

ARMAGH have shown in their two league games to date that they could gain promotion by virtue of building potential game winning leads in both games.


In both, however, they sustained lapses in their play, which saw them swap victories for a draw and a numbing defeat. With ten minutes to go they were four points ahead and heading seemingly, for a morale boosting win.

For me, Armagh's game on Sunday went through four phases. 'Phase one' was a hesitant and very nervy period for Armagh as they laboured in their whole game approach, even though they had opened the brighter via an opening minute lead taking free by Stefan Campbell.

This opener plus the inclusion of Rory Grugan and Oisin O'Neill in place of Conor White and Aaron Findon at the start, initiated hopes of a loosening of last year's chains put their by Laois. Within 12 minutes they were back chasing a lead as a Niall Donoher goal was added to by a Laois goal that was in many ways avoidable.

Stephen Attride intercepted Oisin O'Neill's pass on the Laois '45' and his clearance to Stephen Ramsbottom saw his middle of the field lay off pass allow Niall Donoher to power solo straight down the middle of a wide open Armagh defence to strike into the net.

Shortly afterwards Danny Luttrell extended that lead to four. Armagh were stunned back into action with Stefan Campbell (free) and Paul Hughes points restoring Armagh's contention in the game. Play became balanced for a time with Donnie Kingstom (free) and Oisin O'Neill (from an overlapping Mark Shields pass) exchanging scores.

The introduction of Jamie Clarke lifted Armagh out of their nervousness and they began to take the game to Laois. Just before that happened, Laois 'keeper Graham Brody, who enjoyed long solos regularly and deep into Armagh's half, helped win a free for Donnie Kingston to convert.

Armagh would dominate after that to a degree and in a 21 minutes split either side of half-time, Armagh outscored Laois by 0-10 to 0-2 for a possible game winning four point lead.

Up to the interval, Armagh poured all over Laois to go in level at the interval via Aidan Forker, Oisin O'Neill and Stephen Sheridan points. Armagh had seven scores and seven wides in that first half, while Laois hit five (1-4) and had one wide (37 minutes in).

Armagh had started the second half tentatively and in a low gear, allowing Laois to grab two points in the opening minute after the restart. One, through a Donnie Kingston free, was avoidable and the second was through a kick-out, Laois gained possession and returned the ball back courtesy of a Niall Donoher effort, who was having a field day at wing forward.

Crucially Armagh's confidence seemed to lift in an instant largely through the inspired and quality link play of Stefan Campbell, Jamie Clarke, Oisin O'Neill and Rory Grugan. Between the, these four contributed seven points - Stefan (three), Jamie (two) and Rory (one free) - in a very dominant 20 minute spell by Armagh where Laois had no answer to their play.

In that time, Armagh had levelled for the third time in the game and proceeded to go five points up. They looked set to push on for a morale boosting victory. There were 25 minutes played of the second half by then and this heralded a disastrous final phase for Armagh.

In that 60th minute, Laois made their first breakaway attack in some time and Niall Donoher ended it with a point. ?In the resultant kick-out, the ball went straight to Ambrose Doran, who passed to Donnie Kingston.

The Laois full-forward headed on a clear path to goal but he was pulled down in transit. Kingston duly dispatched the resultant penalty to the net and Mark Shields received a red card in the process.

Now just a point ahead and a man down, Armagh would be forced to battle to the end rather than coast to victory. Armagh, to their credit, quickly tried to re-establish dominance and were encouraged by a flowing move which saw Stefan Campbell and Oisin O'Neill combine creatively for Jamie Clarke to land a truly fabulous point on the turn.

Matthew McNiece made a brilliant goal stopping diving save to prevent Laois from scoring from a counterattack, but a subsequent miss-hit Paul Hughes pass was intercepted and pointed by Donnie Kingston.

Armagh, however, were quick to respond given the sense of danger and they and their supporters now felt with Niall Rowland on the overlap restoring a two point lead.

Laois, for their part, sensed another victory over Armagh was possible as Donnie Kingston converted a close in free.

Armagh then wobbled as Donnie Kingston took advantage of an advantage free given to land an equalising free from 45 metres straight in front of the goals.

The seven minutes of extra-time became a game in itself, which produced only one further score, a decisive one for Laois. Two minutes in to injury time, the short kick-out attempt between McNiece and Aaron McKay was intercepted by Laois man Darren Strong and true to his name he drilled the ball over the bar for a Laois lead which ultimately proved to be a Laois winner.

Another chastening defeat for Armagh but all is not lost, as technically promotion at one of the end of the table and avoidance of relegation at the other end is still within Armagh's own hands.

Even if staying in Division Three is Armagh's fate for this year, a possible run to the Ulster Championship final is a possibility.

I will still hold out for possible promotion and a good Championship run to follow.

In this game, Paul Hughes, Oisin O'Neill, Jamie Clarke, Stefan Campbell and Rory Grugan were Armagh's best and if James Morgan, Paddy Morrison and Kevin Dyas return soon from injury plus Charlie Vernon, Ciaran McKeever, Andy Mallon and Brendan Donaghy that's over two-thirds of an Armagh side which could grace the Championship.

Only two, Tyrone and Monaghan, sit in the top spots across the four divisions. Fermanagh sit mid-table in Division Two, while Donegal, Cavan, Derry, Down, Antrim and Armagh are all immersed in a relegation dog-fight.

ARMAGH: M McNiece; M Shields, C Vernon, P Hughes (0-1); A McKay, N Rowland (0-1), A Forker (0-1); S Sheridan (0-1), N Grimley; R Grugan (0-1, free), S Campbell (0-5, 0-3 frees), O O'Neill (0-3, 0-1 free); A Duffy, E Rafferty, O MacIomhair. Subs: J Clarke (0-3) for O Mac Iomhair (25), A Findon for E Rafferty (HT), G McParland for A Duffy (52), C O'Hanlon for R Grugan (67).


LAOIS: G Brody; D Strong (0-1), D Booth, J Kelly; E Buggie, K Lillis, S Attride; S Ramsbottom, D Luttrell (0-1); C Murphy (0-1), A Doran, N Donoher (1-2); R O'Connor, D Kingston (1-6, 0-4 frees), K Meaney. Subs: D Conway for R O'Connor (15), R Munnelly for C Murphy (45), P McMahon for A Doran (48), P Kingston for S Ramsbottom (54), D O'Reilly for N Donoher (63), E Lowry for K Lillis (63).


Referee: D Gough (Meath)


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