Laois kept their promotion aspirations intact with a very hard-earned win over Antrim in their Allianz Hurling League Division 1B tie at O’Moore Park today.
‘Cheddar’ Plunkett’s men seemed in cruise control for much of the proceedings, as Antrim played with just four forwards in the opening half, leaving Brian Stapleton and Matthew Whelan to their own devices.
The visitors got on plenty of possession further out the field though and got off to a fine start with points from the outstanding Conor Johnson – who finished with seven points from play – and an 85m free by Paul Shiels.
Ross King was a constant threat for Laois in the opening half though and he scored four points as the Moores moved three clear.
Neil McManus, who was operating at right half-back, got one back for Antrim but three points from Tommy Fitzgerald, including a rasper that was deflected over the bar brilliantly by Chris O’Connell, helped the victors pull ahead for a 0-13 to 0-8 half-team lead.
Antrim rocketed out of the traps at the start of the second half though and Shiels had three points inside four points, two of which came from prodigious distances. Substitute, PJ O’Connell and Johnson (two) made it six points without reply and the Kevin Ryan’s crew charges were in front.
King levelled with Laois’ first score of the half in the 51st minute and Stephen Maher followed up quickly.
The crucial score arrived seconds later, as Eoin Reilly found Conor Dunne, whose long clearance hopped once before being buried to the Antrim net with a slick ground stroke by Neil Foyle; his first touch moments after being introduced.
Points followed from Willie Hyland, King and John Purcell but Antrim wouldn’t yield easily and they hit back with points of their own from Ciaran Clarke, Shiels and Conor Carson to keep them in contention.
A King goal four minutes from time finally ended the Antrim resistance and they remain pointless after three rounds, while Laois are just a point off the top of the table after recording their second victory.
E Reilly; JA Delaney, B Stapleton, B Camption, J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, c Dunne, P Whelan, C Collier, W Dunphy, J Purcell, C Dwyer, R King, D Palmer, T Fitzgerald.
Subs: S Maher for Collier (24), P Purcell for P Whelan (45), N Foyle for Palmer (51), PJ Scully for Palmer blood (52-54), Scully for Fitzgerald inj (53), B Reddin for King (68)
C O’Connell; K Johnson, C McKinley, O McFadden, E Campbell, N McCauley, N McManus, C Carson, C Johnson, P Shiels, N McKenna, C McCann, C Clarke, D Hamill, D McKernan.
Subs: PJ O’Connell for McCann blood (20-24), O’Connell for McKernan (26), S Beatty for McKenna (44), T McCann for C McCann (56), R McCambridge for Clarke (56)
J Keenan (Wicklow)