Allianz HL D1: Antrim win again
Allianz Hurling League Division 1B
ANTRIM 2-23 LAOIS 1-22
By David Mohan at Corrigan Park
Antrim rounded off their Allianz Hurling League campaign with victory over Laois as goals from Cushendall pair Eoghan Campbell and Niall McCormack helped them to a four-point win at Corrigan Park.
The result ensures the Saffrons finish fourth in Group B with Laois bottom, but the visitors travelled north knowing they were already consigned to a relegation playoff against Westmeath.
Both sides made changes from last week with Seaan Elliott and Aodhán O'Brien earning their first starts of the season and Elliott took his chance well with five excellent scores and O'Brien also was on target from wing-back.
Laois made a host of changes to the listed team as Lee Cleere, Ryan Mullaney, Eanna Lyons, James Keyes and Wille Dunphy all started.
This game was something of a slow burner with Antrim leading by nine at one stage in the first half, but Laois enjoyed an excellent spell either side of the break to reduce the gap to two on a few occasions, but could get no closer as McCormack's late goal sealed Antrim's win.
With the breeze at their backs, Antrim began well with Conal Cunning pointing a free within the opening minute and added another from play with Eoin O'Neill and Aodhán O'Brien also scoring from deep.
Laois took a little while to get into the game and shot a couple of their 11 first-half wides - 17 overall to Antrim's 14 - before Jack Kelly got them off the mark 10 minutes in.
Ross King landed a free and Ryan Mullaney added one from play for the Midlanders, but they were starting to put more shots outside the posts than between with Antrim opening a 0-7 to 0-3 lead at the water break with the pick of the scores coming from Niall McKenna who turned the ball over and scored.
The hosts pushed on in the second quarter with Paddy Burke, Seaan Elliott and a Cunning free increasing the lead with a Paddy Purcell effort Laois's sole response.
The wides were stacking up for both teams at this stage, but Antrim were that bit better with McKenna, Elliott and Eoghan Campbell pointing to move them nine clear, although Laois did end the half well with the final three points through Ciaran Collier, Jack Kelly and an Enda Rowland free to leave it 0-13 to 0-7 at the break.
Laois picked up where they left off as they hit five of the first six points after he break to get to within two after 45 minutes, but had their goalkeeper Enda Rowland to thank as he produced a stunning save from Cunning.
The hosts responded well with Cunning landing a brace and his Dunloy club-mate Elliott adding another before an exchange of points from Stephen Maher deep on the right and Ciaran Clarke left Antrim 0-18 to 0-13 ahead at the water break.
It was still very much all to play for in the final quarter with Willie Dunphy and Jack Kelly landing points either side of two from Elliott and after another exchange of scores, Aaron Dunphy and Maher split to posts to bring the gap down to three.
However, the opening goal of the game would arrive at the other end of the field on 66 minutes as McCormack put his Cushendall club-mate Campbell through and he made no mistake, firing low to the net.
Laois rallied and after PJ Scully pointed a free, he was then picked out by Paddy Purcell after a strong run to bury to the net to leave two in it again.
Antrim almost cancelled this out immediately as Conal Bohill saw a rasping shot crack the post with the sides again trading points before the hosts finally settled the argument with Cunning pointing a sideline and then McCormack lashing to the net in stoppage time as Peter McCallin hobbled off with all of the substitutions already made.
Laois had the final saw with Aaron Dunphy pointing and PJ Scully seeing his 20-metre free clear the bar, but this was not enough as Antrim took the win.
Scorers for Antrim: Conal Cunning 0-9 (0-3 frees, 0-1 65, 0-1 sideline), Seaan Elliott 0-5, Eoghan Campbell 1-1, Niall McCormack 1-0, Eoin O'Neill 0-2, Niall McKenna 0-2, Ciaran Clarke 0-2, Aodhán O'Brien 0-1, Paddy Burke 0-1.
Scorers for Laois: PJ Scully 1-3 (0-3 frees), Jack Kelly 0-5, Paddy Purcell 0-3, Ross King 0-3 (0-2 frees), Stephen Maher 0-2, Aaron Dunphy 0-2, Willie Dunphy 0-2, Ryan Mullaney 0-1, Ciaran Collier 0-1.
ANTRIM: Ryan Elliott; Damon McMullan, Gerard Walsh, Stephen Rooney; Eoghan Campbell, Paddy Burke, Aodhán O'Brien; Ryan McGarry, Michael Bradley; Niall McKenna, Conor Johnston, Eoin O'Neill; Dan McCloskey, Conal Cunning, Seaan Elliott.
Subs: Peter McCallin for Conor Johnston (HT), Matthew Donnelloy for Gerard Walsh (41), Ciaran Clarke for Dan McCloskey (43), Ciaran Johnston for Michael Bradley (55), Niall McCormack for Eoin O'Neill (55), Ryan McCambridge for Aodhán O'Brien (65), Conal Bohill for Niall McKenna (65).
LAOIS: Enda Rowland; Diarmuid Conway, Sean Downey, Lee Cleere; Ryan Mullaney, Ciaran McEvoy, Stephen Maher; Jack Kelly, Paddy Purcell; Eanna Lyons, James Keyes, Ciaran Collier; Willie Dunphy, Ross King, Cha Dwyer.
Subs: John Lennon for Eanna Lyons (HT), Conor Phelan for John Lennon (52), Donnchadh Hartnett for Diarmuid Conway (55), Aaron Dunphy for Ciaran Collier (59), PJ Scully for Willie Dunphy (59), James Ryan for James Keyes (68), Matthew Whelan for Lee Cleere (68).
REFEREE: John Keenan (Wicklow).