Laois relief but despair as Antrim take drop in status

Laois 1-23 Antrim 1-15

So it was no surprise to see the relief etched on his face after the midlanders retained their Liam MacCarthy status in Páirc Tailteann on Saturday.

“At peace at last,” he sighed. “It was a horrible position to be in.

“We had Darren (Rooney) back and Liam Tynan. They gave us the central pillars we could build the team around.

“Against Dublin (last week’s semi-final), we didn’t have that, and the young lads are too young to do it on their own. Darren was a colossus out there today, especially in the first half; he gave superb leadership and Liam ran through the centre for the two points.”

That was a fair portion of the game summarised. Dual star Rooney was indeed magnificent at centre-back and the powerful Tynan a force on the 40, as Laois built up a 1-8 to 0-4 lead after 18 minutes.

Their goal came from opportunist corner-forward Phillip Russell, who got on the end of one of Rooney’s many long clearances.

Antrim trailed at the break, 1-10 to 1-8, their goal coming after Paddy Richmond pounced on the rebound of a low Brian McFall 20-metre free.

By the break Laois were back in the driving seat, holding a five-point lead, 1-14 to 1-9 and en-route to maintaining their top-flight status.

Although the northerners kept it close for most of the second half, they never managed to close that gap. With a hat-trick of points from Tynan and a brace from flying substitute Canice Coonan, Laois finished with a flourish.

Midfielder James Young, top-scorer in the championship so far this year, came in with his usual bagful of points, 11 in total, several of them from inside his own half, but where was this form for the past few crucial months? Why was this Laois side, so obviously talented, in this situation at all? Injuries, claims Butler, injuries to too many big men on crucial days.

“We still missed Joe Fitzpatrick, Joe Phelan, Paddy Mullaney today; we had to put Brian Campion back in goals, and he has a longer puck-out, which had a big bearing on the game.

“We’re still not at the stage of the likes of Donal Óg Cusack where we have the luxury of being able to place the puck-out, so we have to play it as far away from the goals as we can.

“We got a big score, 1-23 is a great score. We’re well able to hurl, the thing is to bring the confidence to the matches. We find it hard to do that against the big boys, especially when they nail us with a goal. We seem to give it too much credence.

“But today, when Antrim got a goal, we responded with a point, which took the harm out of it.

“I’m absolutely delighted about it. I know they’re talented, well able to get into the top eight. I know it’s in them to make the quarter-finals of the championship next year, and I’m vindicated in my opinion of them.”

For Antrim selector Joe Edwards, after the recent upheaval when long-term manager Dinny Cahill walked away, it was a different story.

“Someone had to lose, and unfortunately, as was the case all too often this year, it had to be us.

“I don’t know what to say to the people of Antrim; I’m really heartbroken and disappointed myself in the result,” he admitted.

“When we pick ourselves up, there’s going to have to be something in place on the management side. That’s all we can do.”

Scorers: Laois: J Young 0-11 (0-8 frees); P Russell 1-3; L Tynan 0-4; J Rooney 0-3; C Coonan 0-2. Antrim: P Richmond 1-2; B McFall 0-5 (0-4 frees); J Connolly 0-3; C Hamill 0-2; K McKeegan, C Cunning, M Herron, 0-1 each.

LAOIS: B Campion; J Walsh, P Cuddy, C Healy; M McEvoy, D Rooney, S Dwyer; J Walsh, J Young; J Rowney, L Tynan, T Fitzgerald; P Russell, M Rooney, D Culleton.

Subs: M Herron (McIntosh 35); L Watson (Hamill inj 46); J Scallon (Quinn 56); J Campbell (Scullion 60).

ANTRIM: D Quinn; M Kettle, G Bell, B Herron; M McCambridge, K McKeegan, C Herron; C Cunning, J Connolly; B McFall, C Hamill, M Scullion; J McIntosh, P Richmond, B Quinn.

Subs: C Clear (Walsh inj 38); C Coonan (M Rooney 53); E Meagher (Russell 69); C Brophy (Culleton 72).

Referee: M Wadding (Waterford).

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