Armagh manager Paul Grimley is today taking stock of the fact that the Division Two pathway which his side will follow in the Allianz League over the next two months is strewn with landmines.
And in exploding the theory that there might just be a quick fix for the Orchard County’s ailments, Justin McNulty’s industrious but unsophisticated Laois lent substance to the belief that patience will be the requisite virtue before his native county can clamber back onto terra firma.
Grimley, who never hesitates to call a spade, ruefully acknowledges the extent of the task that confronts him but this will only encourage him to roll his sleeves up even further in his bid to re-visit former glories.
“Over the course of the 70 minutes the game was toing and froing although Laois certainly opened well. They hit us with a points blitz just before the break as well but I told the boys to try and show more cohesion and commitment in the second half and to be fair to them they did,” said the coach of the all-conquering 2002 Armagh side, “I thought that they rallied well but Laois got three very late points that maybe put a gloss on the final score. I thought a seven-point defeat maybe did not do our overall effort justice.”
The home team’s physical power, marked dominance at midfield, sustained cohesion and the ability to pirate points from all angles and distances ensured that the possibility of a rewarding outing for Grimley’s fledgling side would flounder.
“While we were disappointed to lose, I thought some of our newer players performed quite well,” said Grimley, “It has to be recognised that we are in the throes of what will be a long-term plan and we have to be patient.”
His team’s desire to hit the ground running looked as if it might bear fruit when they opened brightly to lead by 0-3 to 0-1 but there was a fervour to their play that was too high-energy to carry a long shelf-life.
Sure enough, James Lavery was called ashore to be replaced by Stephen Harold, Ross Munnelly began to cut loose up front and by half-time Laois were already out of sight at 0-13 to 0-4, Darren Strong (2), Conor Boyle, Billy Sheehan, Brendan Quigley and the irrepressible Munnelly (3) sharing in their scoring blitz.
If Armagh’s obstinacy in the third quarter brought its own level of satisfaction, it certainly took them nowhere close to the winning post.
“We thought maybe at that stage that we might make a real fist of it but it was not to be. Laois came back at us and closed out the game,” admitted Grimley. They certainly did, a raft of scores from the ever-dangerous Munnelly, the lively Sheehan and the capable Kingston cancelling out Brian Mallon’s well-taken goal and Stefan’s Forker’s brace of points.
It was perhaps appropriate that Sheehan and Munnelly, who pocketed 11 points between them, should have provided the finishing flourish to the home team’s businesslike offering which left Armagh shaken but nonetheless still stirred at the prospect of facing Wexford at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
Laois: E Culliton; C Healy, K Meaney, P O’Leary; D Strong (0-2), J O’Loughlin, C Boyle (0-1); B Quigley (0-1), C Begley; R Munnelly (0-7, 0-4 frees), G Walsh, B Sheehan (0-4); D Kingston (0-3, 0-1 free), P Clancy (0-2), C Kelly. Subs: D O’Connor for Kelly (47 mins), A Doran for Walsh (58).
Armagh: P McAvoy; M Shields (0-1), J Donnelly, G McCooey; K Dyas, C McKeever, F Moriarty; K Toner, J Lavery; C Rafferty, A Forker, E Rafferty (0-3); G McParland (0-1), S Forker (0-3), B Mallon (1-1). Subs: S Harold (0-1) for Lavery (28 mins), A Duffy for A Forker (50), E McVerry for Mallon (59), J Kingham for McParland (59), S Campbell for S Forker (69).
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).