Laois run into wall of solid orange

 

All-Ireland SFC Quarter-final/Armagh 0-15 Laois 0-13: It's hard to know how the memory of any team will be preserved by footballing history. Some teams streak across the sky writing their names with jet trails and they pass so quickly that when you look again the sky is clear. Armagh, though, are sturdier and more deliberative, the type of team to carve their name into a stout trunk of oak. Something in their image. Something lasting. Tom Humphries reports from Croke Park

A few years ago their sallies down to Croke Park were novel, and almost invariably heartbreaking. Now they are stoic and imperturbable when they visit. They do things their way. Invariably that's enough. If it means taking a 20-minute break at half time so be it.

Their way was enough yesterday. Armagh added Laois to their lengthening list of victims. Joe Kernan added the scalp of Mick O'Dwyer to his belt. The impression that one of football's more enduring franchises is being built was hard to avoid.

There was two points in it when the final whistle blew. That's an Armagh type of margin, the sort of gap which reflects the attrition which went before it and gives a hint of how Armagh would have pulled away if they had just had another 10 minutes.

It was one of those games where bodies crashed into each other with a crunch that Hollywood's image magicians can never quite emulate. Laois came at Armagh with both the confidence of youth and the wisdom of O'Dwyer. For short periods it looked as if they would run Armagh into the ground. In the end, though, it was deer headbutting with buffalo.

Two points. Armagh are the sort of team who do exactly what it says on the tin. O'Dwyer will look back and wonder why he didn't read the label more carefully. Laois did most things right.

They let Tony McEntee wander back to his own defence.They posted Aidan Fennelly in front of the full back. They held Steven McDonnell scoreless and kept Ronan Clarke to a point from play, and still Armagh funnelled through.

In the end, the running game which has served Laois well this summer turned on them. They were charged and ready as the game went into the final quarter but the cumulative toll of smashing themselves against the orange wall began to tell. The release of the ball came that little bit earlier and that little bit more carelessly.

The central corridor through which Laois had planned to have Tom Kelly gallop all afternoon as Mick Lalor went walkabout never really opened up adequately and always Laois found Kieran McGeaney or Tony McEntee on sentry duty. They hadn't enough time to revise their plans.

Early on, Laois could claim to have been breaking even at midfield, except there was very little breaking even to be done. The ball was transferred with fluency and pace. Laois running and passing. Armagh fetching and driving the ball early. It made for attractive fare.

McDonald put Laois ahead with a soothing early point. Oisín McConville replied three minutes later. It went tit for tat for the next three quarters of an hour.

In the opening minutes, before the game settled into its own rhythm, both sides had chances to leave the other behind. A neat passing movement involving Garvan, Lalor and Ian Fitzgerald ended with the last named trickling a shot past the Armagh goal.

That sort of opportunity wasn't to come again. A minute later, Marsden drew a fine save from Byron and 10 minutes further into the game the goalie was called upon to repeat the trick, this time when McDonnell scorched through.

From there on the game settled into a pattern with which Armagh were palpably more comfortable.

Laois will look back and savour the glory of the season just ended but over the winter they will ask questions of themselves. Did they attempt to run at Armagh for a little too long? Could they have introduced Hughie Emerson's bulk to the full forward line earlier than the 68th minute? They needed to get some change from the odd speculative ball played in, needed to give the nippy players in the high numbered jerseys something to play off.

If it was too late when Emerson came in. Perhaps that was understandable. This was one of those defeats which never looked inevitable until it was too late. Level at half time, the teams swapped points for another 12 minutes or so and then Armagh ran in four scores during an eight minute period when they were indomitable.

Every team needs a patch like Armagh enjoyed from the 50th minute onwards. Paul McGrane was lord of the midfield, McGeeney behind him was the distribution overlord. The ball came in early and often to the Armagh forwards. Laois were pushed hither and tither.

O'Dwyer, having just warmed up and used two substitute forwards, was caught at just the wrong moment. He put his trust in his midfield and didn't go back to the bench for a defender either. As such he was right but within the handful of minutes it took for him to get his hand right again, Joe Kernan fleeced him. Four points in the second half of a mean game like this was always going to be a winning lead.

Laois will recognise, too, that in the first half Armagh had threatened at times to cut loose and they themselves had the opportunities to close in late on. In particular, Noel Garvan, who came steaming through to score Laois's 11th point blissfully unaware of the colleague standing in a prairie of space out to his left.

Yet the margin was just and the winners got what they deserved. There are good days left for this Laois team. Watching Armagh late this summer might just contribute to the store of knowledge they bring into those days.

LAOIS: F Byron; A Fennelly, C Byrne, J Higgins; D Rooney (0-1), T Kelly, P McDonald; P Clancy, N Garvan (0-1); R Munnelly, M Lalor (0-1), G Kavanagh (0-4, two frees); B McDonald (0-6, three frees), I Fitzgerald, D Delaney. Subs: C Parkinson for Delaney (16 mins), B Brennan for Munnelly (51 mins), S Kelly for Parkinson (51 mins), D Miller for Kavanagh (60 mins), H Emerson for S Kelly (67 mins).

ARMAGH: P Hearty; A Mallon, E McNulty, F Bellew; A O'Rourke (0-1), K McGeeney, A McCann (0-1); P Loughran (0-1), P McGrane; R Clarke (0-1), J McEntee (0-1), O McConville (0-7 four frees); S McDonnell (0-1, free), D Marsden (0-2), T McEntee. Sub: P McKeever for Clarke 62 mins.

Referee: G Kinneavy (Roscommon)