Does that mean that Tyrone are a significantly better side than the All Ireland champions? Not on your life. All it means is that Armagh doesn’t throttle teams. They strangle them, choke them until every last breath has left their bodies, then walk calmly away, dusting the dirt from their hands.
That’s what they did here. The teams were level nine times and on the face of it, anyone putting money down on a winner ten minutes into the second half would have been a brave gambler. But looks are deceiving at the best of times. A close, tight match at Croke Park? Only one winner here.
Laois can’t complain really. They worked hard and they worked clever, but at no stage did they open up any sort of gap. At no stage did Paul Hearty in the Armagh goal have anything to do with his afternoon beyond looking after the kick-outs. At no stage did they grab the All Ireland champions by the lapels and ask them did they want to step outside. No, what they did was dutifully play their nice brand of football – a hand pass here, a smooth link-up there – without ever really giving the hope that nice football would win the day.
Maybe that’s a bit unfair. To both sides. Some of the points they took last Sunday were picture perfect. Philip Loughran hoisted one from Mountjoy Square after 50 minutes; Diarmaid Marsden played a crafty one-two with Ronan Clarke to add to it a couple of minutes later; Oisin McConville took seven points back into the dressing room with him, as well as one crazily disallowed by referee Gerry Kinneavy for taking a free from six inches closer to the goal than he should have.
Kinneavy had a bad day. His pulling up of McConville would have been understandable enough if the Crossmaglen man had been 14 yards out, but he was standing on the 50-yard line. Really, how much advantage could possibly have accrued by taking one more step towards the goal? And if there was such a significant boost accruing, why was McConville the only one to feel the pinch. It wasn’t like everyone who took frees all day took them from the right place.
The feeling was that maybe Armagh were being clipped round the ear for having Kinneavy knock on their door three minutes after the second half was supposed to have started. Joe Kernan joked afterwards that it wasn’t so much a case of the kettle taking a long time to boil, more a case of no-one being able to find their kettle in the first place. Whatever was going on, Armagh were playing everything as canny as All Ireland champions should. The sides stood level at seven points apiece at the stage and Kernan knew that time had to be taken in telling his side how the game would be won. Can’t imagine too many in Armagh will worry about the euro500 fine the GAC will slap on them.
The winning of the game came in a spell 15 minutes after the break. Laois had been holding the Armagh forwards more than adequately up to then, but for five minutes they danced free. McConville clipped a free, Loughran heaved his point, Ronan Clarke saw daylight for the first time and grabbed a neat score before McConville landed another placed ball. Armagh had momentum now and Laois had no real plan to trip them up. They managed to claw back a couple of points but the amount of work they had to do to earn them was phenomenal. Brian McDonald was their best forward and he finished with six points against his name but rarely can six points have taken so much effort to extract from a game.
But that’s what Armagh do to you. They’re like some wretched old factory owner who makes you sweat and toil and heave from dawn to dusk and it’s only when they day is done and he’s counting his money while you starve in a garret that you realise you’ve been had.