Laois 1-15 Armagh 1-10
Laois recovered from a very shaky start to secure a fine victory over Armagh in an incident-packed game at O’Moore Park this afternoon.
Armagh were furious at the final whistle after being forced to play the entire second half without centre-back, Ciaran McKeever.
The former Orchard captain was shown a red card by referee Michael Duffy after the teams came out to start the second half, and he refused to leave the pitch until selector Paul Grimley finally prevailed on him to do so.
At the final whistle, Grimley remonstrated angrily with Duffy but with a linesman having reported McKeever for an alleged strike on Laois forward, Billy Sheehan as the teams headed for the dressing rooms at half time, the Sligo official was left with no alternative.
Armagh threatened to run riot in the opening quarter and might well have been out of sight but for the heroics of goalkeeper Eoin Culliton.
Culliton has shown himself to be one of the country’s premier shot-stoppers since cementing his position between the posts for Laois and he denied Gavin McParland twice early on before making another good save from Caolan Rafferty.
Armagh certainly looked the more likely victors early on, Brian Mallon converting a free and Aidan Forker fisting over after a strong run.
Colm Begley curled over brilliantly to open the scoring for Laois from almost their first attack in the tenth minute, and Culliton’s saves from Rafferty either side of that score were critical.
Adrian Kelly cut an isolated figure for Laois at full-forward but the home side gradually settled and began to create more from a deeper position.
Michael John Tierney, Begley and the influential Billy Sheehan all kicked tremendous scores to open up a two-point advantage. By the time Ross Munnelly finished following a pacy inter-change involving Conor Boyle, Brendan Quigley and Sheehan on the half-hour, there were four points between the sides.
Forker had missed a couple of opportunities from frees in this period before finally landing one and Laois led at the interval by 0-7 to 0-4.
Armagh were clearly put out of their stride by the drama before the second half began and successive points from Darren Strong, Munnelly, Paul Cahillane, Kevin Meaney and Begley put them eight points clear.
Culliton had made a stunning double-stop from Finnian Moriarty by this stage though and there was no surprise when Armagh eventually goaled in the 50th minute, Rafferty slotting home the rebound after Moriarty’s shot had cannoned off the crossbar.
Suddenly, Paddy O’Rourke’s crew were galvanised and scoring five of the next six points, they were the team on the front foot, just two points in arrears with ten 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.
Laois: E Culliton; C Healy, K Lillis, P O’Leary; K Meaney 0-1, M Timmons 0-1, C Boyle; B Quigley, J O’Loughlin; C Begley 0-3, B Sheehan 0-1, D Strong 0-1; MJ Tierney 0-3(fs), A Kelly, R Munnelly 0-2. Sub: P Cahillane 1-1 for Kelly (ht); D O’Connor 0-1 for Tierney (56); J Kavanagh for Sheehan (68); C Kelly for O’Loughlin (70+1); O’Loughlin for Begley blood (70+1).
Armagh: P McEvoy; F Moriarty, D McKenna, A Mallon; K Dyas, C McKeever, P Duffy; P Carragher, BJ Padden; A Forker 0-2(1f), C Watters, A Duffy; B Mallon 0-2(fs), G McParland 0-1, C Rafferty. Sub: J Lavery for Carragher inj (25); C Vernon for Padden (41); M O’Rourke for McParland (41); J Kingham 0-1 for Forker (50); R Rafferty for Watters (64).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).