Armagh are in trouble, however, and they were furious at the end, with selector Paul Grimley leading remonstrations against the dismissal of Ciarán McKeever just prior to the throw-in for the second-half.
McKeever seemed bemused when referee Michael Duffy issued him a red card but he refused to leave the field until Grimley arrived to usher him away. Armagh boss, Paddy O’Rourke was equally perplexed by the call. “To lose the man at half-time was an incredibly bizarre decision. We honestly don’t know why we lost him, he doesn’t know why. He said nothing happened in the tunnel. Why we lost him I don’t know.”
McKeever’s former Armagh team-mate and current Laois boss, Justin McNulty confirmed the centre-back was sent-off for an alleged strike as the teams made their way through the tunnel at half-time.
“There was an incident at half-time which the linesman happened to witness which Ciarán was sent-off for. Ciarán will know when you do that sort of thing, you have to pay the consequences. It was a striking action in the tunnel which the linesman witnessed right next to him so you pay the consequences for that.”
The duo agreed on everything else though, including the significance of Eoin Culliton’s display. Armagh had at least four goal opportunities but were denied on each occasion by the magnificent Laois custodian.
The Timahoe man confirmed his status as one of the best shot-stoppers in the country with two stunning saves from Gavin McParland early on and further top-drawer efforts from Caolan Rafferty and Finnian Moriarty.
Had Armagh goaled in that opening quarter, when they were well in control, they might well have pulled away.
Instead, having grabbed two early points, they stalled and it was Laois who were clinical with their opportunities, Colm Begley, Sheehan and Ross Munnelly firing over magnificent scores to establish a 0-7 to 0-4 half-time lead.
The sending off clearly upset Armagh and successive points from Darren Strong, Munnelly, Paul Cahillane, Kevin Meaney and Begley put them eight points clear.
Armagh eventually goaled in the 50th minute, Rafferty slotting home the rebound after Moriarty’s shot had cannoned off the crossbar. Suddenly, they were flying, scoring five of the next six points to be just two points in arrears with 10 minutes remaining
Cahillane slotted a goal from close range in the 62nd minute, however, and points from Damien O’Connor and Colm Kelly (free) guaranteed Laois a vital win.
Scorers for Laois: P Cahillane 1-1; C Begley, MJ Tierney (fs) 0-3 each; R Munnelly 0-2; K Meaney, M Timmons, B Sheehan, D Strong, D O’Connor, C Kelly(f) 0-1 each
Scorers for Armagh: C Rafferty 1-1; B Mallon(fs), A Forker (1f) 0-2 each; G McParland, J Kingham, A Duffy, J Lavery, M O’Rourke (f) 0-1 each
Subs for Laois: P Cahillane for A Kelly (ht); D O’Connor for Tierney (56); J Kavanagh for Sheehan (68); C Kelly for O’Loughlin (70+1); O’Loughlin for Begley blood (70+1)
Subs for Armagh: J Lavery for Carragher inj (25); C Vernon for Padden (41); M O’Rourke for McParland (41); J Kingham for Forker (50); R Rafferty for Watters (64)
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).