Antrim safe after defeat of Laois

Antrim 2-18 Laois 2-16

Antrim 2-18 Laois 2-16

Neil McManus and Paul Shiels landed late points as Antrim secured their Division 1B status for next year by overcoming Laois in Belfast.

The Saffrons trailed by 10 points, early in the second half, but battled strongly to outscore their midland opponents by 2-14 to 1-5 over the remainder of this tie.

A Conor Carson goal cut the deficit and although Brendan Reddin netted for Laois, Antrim pressed on.

McNaughton netted the Saffrons’ second goal, with McManus, Simon McCrory and Shiels also impressing in the final quarter.

Laois may have been without key forwards Tommy Fitzgerald, John Brophy, Neil Foyle and Stephen Maher for this encounter, but the O'Moore men showed great strength in attack during the opening stages.

Antrim made just one change to their match programme line-up, with John Kerr coming in for Kieran McGourty in the full-back line.

McNaughton blazed wide in the opening minute, while a long range shot from Michael McEvoy was kept out by Antrim goalkeeper Seanan McToal in the third minute.

Laois backs Conor Dunne and Canice Coonan made some good blocks, but McNaughton eventually broke the deadlock in the eighth minute as Antrim worked the ball from defence to attack for the Cushendall man to slot it between the posts.

Antrim had two further chances to add to their tally before Dayne Peacock grabbed Laois' first goal in the 11th minute.

Hyland sent in a long range free, 50 metres out from his own goal, which dropped on top of the Antrim full-back line and in the scramble for possession Peacock managed to direct the ball into the net.

This gave Laois a lead they would not relinquish until seven minutes from the final whistle, as Teddy McCarthy's charges began to get on top. Antrim were held to just four first half points - all of those coming from the hurley of McNaughton.

David O'Mahony, Joe Fitzpatrick, Chris Murray and Willie Dunphy took excellent scores from play for the midlanders, while Hyland was impressive from play and placed balls. A fifth Hyland point ensured a 1-9 to 0-4 interval lead.

Laois extended their advantage to 10 points inside five minutes of the restart courtesy of a brace of Hyland scores.

However, Antrim suddenly sprung to life and mindful of leaving it too late last time out against Offaly, they stepped up their efforts all over the pitch.

The Saffrons rattled off five unanswered points between the 40th and 45th minutes to cut the deficit to 1-11 to 0-9, with Shiels, McNaughton, McManus, Barry McFall and PJ O'Connell all on target.

McNaughton tried his luck for a goal but his 47th minute effort was blocked away by goalkeeper Eoin Reilly's point blank save.

Hyland added his third point of the half for Laois before another McNaughton point, and then the hosts hammered home their first goal.

Carson sending a blazing shot to the right of goalkeeper Reilly, nestling it in the far corner of the net to reduce the arrears to just two points.

Shiels and McManus then forced Reilly to make further good saves as Antrim began to beat a path towards the Laois goal.

At the opposite end Laois responded with their second goal with 13 minutes remaining. Hyland's penalty strike was initially blocked and substitute Reddin latched onto the rebound to finish it off.

But the goal just added fuel to the Antrim fire with the Ulstermen soon finding an extra gear. They registered 1-5 without reply in the space of four minutes, with McNaughton netting the goal as they moved 2-14 to 2-13 ahead by the 63rd minute.

Scores from Hyland and Andrew Collier pushed Laois ahead briefly, but McNaughton and McCrory ensured the Saffrons led once again as injury-time approached.

Hyland tied the contest with his 11th point of the afternoon, but Antrim made certain of their second and most important win of the league run thanks to final scores from McManus and Shiels.

Scorers:

Antrim: S McNaughton 1-8 (0-4f), N McManus 0-4, P Shiels 0-2, B McFall, PJ O'Connell, C Donnelly, S McCrory 0-1 each

Laois: W Hyland 0-11 (0-5f, 0-1 '65'), D Peacock, B Reddin 1-0 each, D O'Mahony, J Fitzpatrick, C Murray, W Dunphy, A Collier 0-1 each

ANTRIM: S McToal; A Graffin, C Donnelly, J Kerr; N McAuley, N McManus, M Gettens; K Stewart, P Shiels; S McCrory, M Herron, D Hamill; PJ O'Connell, C Carson, S McNaughton.

Subs used: B McFall for McCrory (25-29 mins, blood sub), B McFall for Hamill (half-time), D Lynch for O'Connell (62).

LAOIS: E Reilly; P Mullaney, D Maher, C Coonan; C Dunne, M Whelan, M McEvoy; J Fitzpatrick, James Walsh; D O'Mahony, W Hyland, D Peacock; C Murray, W Dunphy, S Bourke.

Subs used: B Reddin for Peacock (34 mins), G Burke for Mullaney (48), A Collier for Dunphy (53), N Unwin for Burke (72).

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).

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