What a difference a week makes. Seven days it seemed Armagh has finally reached another level and based purely on the evidence of the Cavan game, they seemed a step above whatever they would face in Division Two.
And today, Armagh freefall back into reality and promotion talk is locked down for another while, with the target of remaining in the division now gaining the complete attention of the Orchard followers.
Against Cavan, Armagh displayed a slick and controlled attacking plan that worked a treat, with five of their six forwards all getting on the score sheet. Last night’s performance however was like night and day as they never seemed to find their groove all evening long.
The momentum picked up in last weekend’s 13 point win was soon overshadowed by a hungrier Laois side that from the very first whistle were first to every ball all over the field and controlled the tempo of the contest.
Laois took the lead with an Evan O’Carroll free after five minutes of play before Rian O’Neill levelled matters with a sweetly struck 45, 60 seconds later. The game struggled to swing into action with Laois making the best of their chances; Michael Keogh and Mark Barry (free) putting them two ahead.
Niall Grimley raised his sides second and only other score of the first half with a powerful shot, although Laois began to pull away with five points on the trot. If the idea of a ‘bogey teams’ was anything to go by, it seemed Armagh were in for a long night.
Evan O’Carroll pulled his side further ahead with a brace while attack minded corner back Brian Byrne roamed forward to snatch his first score of the evening. Kieran Lillis worked hard around the middle all night, along with man of the match John O’Loughlin and Lillis was rewarded with a 29th minute point.
Just before the short whistle sounded, Laois had time to tag on another point and this time it was Mark Timmons who ventured forward from the full back line to split the posts, which allowed Laois to hold a commanding 0-8 to 0-2 advantage heading into the break.
The first score of the second period was crucial and unfortunately for the visiting support it was Laois who got off the mark first with a pointed free, one of many scores they earned from the dead ball in the second half, with Evan O’Carroll and Mark Barry Laois’ only two scorers in the second period, sharing eight points.
Armagh looked to spark a revival when Conor Turbitt pointed from play with his sides’ first attack of the second period while Rian O’Neill was on target with three consecutive free kicks to bring the margin back to three.
Suddenly Armagh suggested they could claim something from the game, but they failed to drive on and get any closer to Laois, with the home side always able to keep Kieran McGeeney’s men at arm’s length.
O’Neill kicked his 5th which was soon matched by Mark Barry, while substitute Jarly Og Burns also traded scores with Laois’ top marksman, and another Barry free extended the lead to five points with 15 minutes left to play.
Jamie Clarke was introduced five minutes later and he split two Laois scores as his chipped over his first point of the 2020 season. Clarke exchanged points with O’Carroll to see the game out, Laois coming away with an impressive six point victory.
Armagh deserved nothing from the game after a lacklustre performance and perhaps the only positive coming from last night’s display will be that it came in round two and they have five games left to correct their mistakes.
Starting with a home tie against Kildare in round three, every game will be of huge importance and with the quality that is still to come back into the team, Armagh will be hopeful of bouncing back next weekend.
Armagh: Blaine Hughes, Paddy Burns, Greg McCabe, Conor O’Neill, Callum Cumiskey, Brendan Donaghy, Aaron McKay, Niall Grimley (0-1), Stephen Sheridan, Jason Duffy, Mark Shields, Oisin O’Neill, Conor Turbitt (0-1), Rian O’Neill (0-5), Stefan Campbell. Subs: Aidan Nugent for M. Shields, Jarly Og Burns (0-1) for J. Duffy, Joe McElroy for G. McCabe, Jemar Hall for C. Cumiskey, Jamie Clarke (0-2) for O. O’Neill.
Laois: Niall Corbet, Brian Byrne (0-1), Mark Timmons (0-1), Gearoid Hanrahan, Sean O’Flynn, Robert Pigott, Patrick O’Sullivan, John O’Loughlin, Sean Byrne, Michael Keogh (0-1), Colm Murphy, Eoin Lowry, Mark Barry (0-7), Kieran Lillis (0-1), Evan O’Carroll (0-5) Subs: Trevor Collins for M. Keogh, Damien O’Connor for S. Byrne, Ross Munnelly for C. Murphy, Cahir Healy for B. Byrne, Darragh Connolly for R. Pigott.