Allianz HL D1: Antrim secure vital victory
Allianz Hurling League Division One Group B
Antrim 3-18 Laois 1-18
By David Mohan at Corrigan Park
Antrim powered home in tricky conditions to secure a crucial Allianz Hurling League win at Corrigan Park.
The Saffrons looked to be in a little trouble approaching the break, but a Neil McManus goal gave them the injection they needed and when it came to the crunch in the second half, they had the stomach for the fight as they finished strongly.
Conal Cunning top-scored with 1-10 for the hosts, his goal coming at a key time in the second half, but the displays of Nigel Elliott and Michael Bradley exemplified all that was good with this Antrim performance as they weren't going to be found wanting with so much at stake.
Laois were much quicker to settle with the opening two points but Antrim were quick to take what seemed a real shot in the arm in the fourth minute as Neil McManus gathered around the middle and sent Conal Cunning away, passing to Niall McKenna and then Nigel Elliott who raced in and buried.
However, this failed to settle Antrim who were second best for the majority of the opening period as the visitors kept the board ticking with the entire front six and midfielder Jack Kelly all on target in the opening period.
They always seemed to respond with at least one score when Antrim raised white at the other end with Conal Cunning doing the bulk of the lifting from frees.
Stephen Maher was doing likewise for Laois but James and Tomás Keys landed a pair each and corner former Aaron Dunphy would rattle the net on 22 minutes as he took advantage of a fumble to beat a pair of challenges and finish.
Enda Rowland's monster deliveries were also causing havoc for the hosts as wind-assisted, they were dropping in the danger area and with one, Ryan Mullaney showed his football skills to kick over.
Antrim were guilty of overplaying at times as they searched for goals, but the switch of Neil McManus into full-forward seemed to give their attack a better balance and it would really pay off in stoppage time as Gerard Walsh went long with the Cushendall man rising to fetch over Liam O'Connor and bury to the net.
Cunning tapped over a late free as despite dominating the opening half, Laois were just 1-14 to 2-9 up.
This proved something of a turning point as Antrim may have had the elements in their favour, but they were clearly energised in the second period with points from Cunning, McManus and Joe Maskey edging them ahead.
After an exchange of points, then came the huge moment on 52 minutes as Gerard Walsh send in an excellent line ball that broke to Elliot who spotted Cunning peeling off and the Dunloy man cracked home past Rowland.
Antrim were now on top but Laois hung in there as the conditions deteriorated a little, yet a Niall McKenna intercept and score underlined the hustle that the hosts were now bringing, but at the other end Ryan Elliott was forced into a strong stop from Dunphy.
Just a goal separated the teams as the game moved into eight minutes of added time, but there would be no denying Antrim this time as they found the energy with both sets of players looking out on their feet.
Substitute Eoin O'Neill raised the roof with a point and Paddy Burke's determination saw him rob Padraig Delaney to score what was the insurance point.
Laois lost Gearoid Lynch to a straight red in the dying moments for a challenge on man-of-the-match contender Michael Bradley, but the points were safe for Antrim.
Scorers for Antrim: C Cunning 1-10 (0-9 frees, 0-1 65), N McManus, 1-1, N Elliott 1-0, K Molloy, 0-2, N McKenna, 0-2, J Maskey 0-1, E O'Neill 0-1, P Burke 0-1
Scorers for Carlow: S Maher 0-7 (6 frees), A Dunphy 1-4, T Keyes 0-2, J Keyes 0-2, M Phelan 0-1, R Mullaney 0-1, J Kelly 0-1
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Paddy Burke, Ryan McGarry, Stephen Rooney; Niall O'Connor, Gerard Walsh, Joe Maskey; Michael Bradley, James McNaughton; Keelan Molloy, Niall McKenna, Nigel Elliott; Conal Cunning, Neil McManus, Conor Johnston
Subs: Seaan Elliott for C Johnston (34), Domhnall Nugent for N McKenna (64), Scott Walsh for N O'Connor (65), Paul Boyle for J Maskey (68), Eoin O'Neill for N Elliott (70+3).
Laois: Enda Rowland; Ian Shanahan, Liam O'Connell, Donnachadh Hartnett; Padraig Delaney, Patrick Purcell, Fiachra C Fennell; Jack Kelly, Aidan Corby; Stephen Maher, Ryan Mullaney, James Keyes; Tomás Keyes, Martin Phelan, Aaron Dunphy
Subs: Willie Dunphy for M Phelan (43), James Duggan for R Mullaney (50), Gearoid Lynch for A Corby (57), Stephen Bergin for KJ Keyes (63).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).