Laois 0-20 Armagh 1-10
There have been more than a few bumps in the road of the Laois project since Justin McNulty was given the task of halting an alarming slide in the county’s fortunes at the end of 2010.
With the obvious caveat that it is only February 2, and Armagh are severely undermanned as usual at this time of the year, shorn as they are of their Crossmaglen contingent, there were signs in the first half at Portlaoise tonight that McNulty was finally getting through to his players.
To be fair, such a serious change in mindset and game-plan doesn’t happen overnight and last year’s Qualifier run gave some cause for optimism.
It was probably on that basis that Laois are fancied by many to make a quick return to Division 1 football and on this evidence, those who put their money where their mouths were won’t be unsatisfied with their investment.
The Orchard men were a completely different proposition in the second half than the first though and gave Paul Grimley plenty to be positive about on the journey north.
Ethan Rafferty was one of those positives and he got the visitors off to a good start with a brilliant point after just 25 seconds.
Armagh were good value for an early two-point lead but Laois took over to dominate the remainder of the opening period.
Ross Munnelly and Donie Kingston kicked seven points between them, with Kingston in particular landing some outstanding scores, while Padraig Clancy and Billy Sheehan elected to point with the Armagh net gaping.
Defensively, Justin McNulty’s side were very comfortable, Brendan Quigley was colossal at midfield and there was no sense that the hosts were flattered by a 0-13 to 0-4 interval lead that would have been a lot more had they converted even one of their four goal opportunities.
You couldn’t have imagined that Laois would rue those missed chances but when Brian Mallon goaled in the 47th minute, the margin was suddenly down to three points.
They couldn’t make any further inroads though and both sides were guilty of some terrible wides.
A couple of late points by Billy Sheehan – the second prompting three pumps of the fist that somehow looked out of place in the first round of Division 2 - made it safe for the hosts.
Laois: R Munnelly 0-7(4fs); D Kingston (1f), B Sheehan 0-4 each; D Strong, 0-2; P Clancy, C Boyle, B Quigley 0-1 each
Armagh: B Mallon 1-1; S Forker (2fs), E Rafferty 0-3 each; G McParland, S Harold, M Shields 0-1 each
LAOIS: E Culliton; C Healy, K Meaney, P O’Leary; D Strong, J O’Loughlin, C Boyle; B Quigley, C Begley; R Munnelly, G Walsh, B Sheehan; D Kingston, P Clancy, C Kelly. Sub: D O’Connor for Kelly (47); A Doran for Walsh (58)
ARMAGH: P McEvoy; M Shields, J Donnelly, G McCooey; K Dyas, C McKeever, F Moriarty; J Lavery, K Toner; C Rafferty, A Forker, E Rafferty; G McParland, S Forker, B Mallon. Subs: S Harold for Lavery (30); A Duffy for A Forker (51); E McVerry for Mallon (59); J Kingham for McParland (60); S Campbell for S Forker (70).