Laois 1-10 Armagh 0-10: Laois improved a very tidy qualifier record by coming out the right side of a tense and cagey affair with Armagh at O’Moore Park.
The home side are now P18 W12 L6 through the back door, and if part of that story details a pretty dreadful record in the provincial championship, their ability to bounce back is notable.
Of course Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney famously never lost a qualifier while in charge of Kildare until his last game of a six-year term when Tyrone beat the Lilywhites in Newbridge.
The second chance saloon has not been such a redemptive path since returning to his native county, although they did reach the last eight two years ago when he was assistant to Paul Grimley.
After taking over the reins last year though, he watched his men spurn numerous opportunities as they bowed out to Galway and Saturday was Groundhog Day.
“It’s the same as it went wrong for us before, 31 shots, 10 scores. We had the chances, goal chances as well, loads of point chances but we have to be able to convert them and we didn’t and that’s probably the bottom line,” said McGeeney.
“We really had them going, a point in it, but I think we had four or five attacks on the trot, turned the ball over most times, with no pressure, and they’re key points.
“Conversion rate is a massive thing. You have to be around 54, 55%, we’re hitting around 30-35% and that’s the big thing. You’re going to get your chances but you have to be able to take them. You can’t afford to have 31 chances and taking 10 scores off it. That’s a big thing that we just have to work on.”
To be fair, Laois weren’t clinical either but having edged the verdict, Mick Lillis was delighted.
“Probably the most reassuring thing was we did fight for it and we did show a bit of hunger and we did show a bit of desire” said the Laois boss.
“There’s plenty of football in the squad, but sometimes in the qualifiers fellas throw their hat at it and say, ‘ah, to hell with it, I’ll go back to the club’. But these lads have knuckled down over the last two weeks and they’ve shown a bit of desire and it’s just good to watch it.
“They were hurt (after the Dublin game), not so much by the fact we were beaten, they were hurt by the way we failed to come out of the blocks. When the game was in the melting pot, we failed to compete and that hurt. In fairness to them they came out and they wanted it today.”
There was never much between the teams and Conor Meredith’s 16th minute goal was definitive. It was a scintillating finish by the former AFL man, who took up possession around 40 metres out and wide on the left, burned Ciarán McKeever on the outside and with no-one closing in, drove an unstoppable shot to the far corner.
McGeeney had been trying to introduce James Morgan prior to the kickout that started the move and was seen attempting to alert referee Anthony Nolan to the fact that Mark Shields was receiving attention on the ground. The lack of defensive cover may have been significant and the Armagh boss remonstrated with the Wicklow official afterwards.
“He said he doesn’t stop for broken bones” revealed McGeeney. No wonder he spread his hands in frustration when Nolan prevented Armagh from taking a kick-out in the closing stages with the game in the melting pot, as Laois’ excellent defender Gearóid Hanrahan was being seen to.
The sides went in level at the break, 0-7 to 1-4 but Laois upped the tempo after the resumption and Donie Kingston (two) and David Conway pushed them clear.
Armagh got close but not close enough and were hit on the counter at the end, points from Jamie Farrell and veteran Ross Munnelly seeing them home.
Having been the bizarre focus of Joe Brolly’s ire in recent weeks, McGeeney knows what’s coming down the tracks but admitted that he was champing at the bit to get going again next year.
“I feel sorry for the boys. They really worked their heart off, they didn’t leave anything there.
“The week after Championship or the two weeks after it, we’ll have a lot of people telling us what we should and shouldn’t do and that’s just part and parcel of it. They’re going to have to take it on the chin and come back, play with their clubs, have a good year with them and then refocus again.”
Scorers for Laois:
D Kingston (0-4, 3 frees), C Meredith 1-0, P Cahillane (free), D Conway (free), D Strong, G Walsh (free), J Farrell, R Munnelly (0-1 each)
Scorers for Armagh:
S Campbell (0-3, frees), R Grugan (0-2, 1 free), M McKenna (0-2), A Forker, M Shields, J Feeney (0-1).
P Morrison; S Heffron, B Donaghy, M Shields; J Mc Elroy, C McKeever, A Mallon; C Vernon, A Findon; T Kernan, R Grugan, A Forker; M McKenna, S Campbell, N Grimley.
J Morgan for Shields (inj 16); J Feeney for Forker (45); G McParland for Grimley (50); J Hall for Kernan (54); T Kernan for McKenna (58).
G Brody; S Attride, M Timmons, G Hanrahan; D Strong, K Lillis, D O’Connor; B Quigley, K Meaney; N Donoher, P Cahillane, C Begley; C Meredith, D Kingston, D Conway.
A Farrell for Strong (43); J Farrell for Meaney (50); M Campion for Donoher (52); R Munnelly for Conway (54); G Walsh for Cahillane (58); G Dillon for Meredith (70); S Murphy for Quigley (back card 72).
A Nolan (Wicklow).
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