Allianz Hurling League: Antrim punished late on to drop into relegation playoff

Allianz Hurling League: Antrim punished late on to drop into relegation playoff

CHA Dwyer fired over the winner in stoppage time for 14-man Laois to condemn Antrim to a relegation playoff as the O’Moore men registered their first points of the League at O’Moore Park on Sunday.

The hosts lost Jack Kelly to a red card on 24 minutes, but remained on top of an out of sorts Antrim when leading by six at the break.

Darren Gleeson’s charges improved greatly after the restart and when Neil McManus cracked home a goal to level with eight minutes to play, it seemed they were set to break for home, but despite holding a slender lead in stoppage time, Laois turned it around with a mistake gifting Dwyer the winning shot to leave Antrim now with one last chance to save their Division One status against whoever finishes bottom of Group A.

An eye-watering 18 wides did not help the Antrim cause with a dozen coming in the second period when they began to get the measure of Laois and once again, the defeat came as a result of some basic errors and wastefulness that now leave them without a point after four games and heading to Tipperary in a fortnight’s time for what is effectively a dead rubber ahead of that playoff against either Offaly or All-Ireland champions Limerick.

“We led late on and had the opportunities to win the game, didn’t take them,” said a sombre Antrim manager, Darren Gleeson.

“The root cause of the position we got ourselves into was our first-half performance. We had a plan in place and didn’t execute it; very poor tracking and very loose in the first half.

“We seemed to curl up when the opportunity was there to play, so it’s very disappointing.

“You have to give credit to Laois. Everybody could see where they were going, but they focussed on the match that was there, came in and executed.

“Again, playing against 14 men the use of the ball wasn’t up to the standard it should be at, so it’s a very disappointing day.

“It feels like a relegation final, but it wasn’t. That’s coming down the line for us now and we just have to prepare for it.”


James Keyes steals a march on Daniel McKernan


James Keyes steals a march on Daniel McKernan


Antrim were much quicker to settle with Neil McManus putting them ahead from a free on two minutes, with Michael Bradley and Conal Cunning adding quickfire scores straight after.

However, Laois would quickly flip the momentum their way with Stephen Maher opening their account and then on five minutes, Paddy Purcell outhustled Ryan McGarry who lost his stick in the process and Purcell burst in on goal from the left wing before cracking past Ryan Elliott.

Seaan Elliot tied the game straight after with a fine point as the teams battled for the upper hand, trading points, but a pair of beauties from Cha Dwyer on the left sideline and a Maher 65 after Ryan Elliott snuffed out Willie Dunphy left that goal between them.

A McManus free brought the gap back to two before a big moment on 24 minutes when Jack Kelly initially won a free for Laois but reacted to Daniel McKernan’s chop down by striking back and was sent off.

Instead of boosting Antrim, it seemed to have the opposite effect as Laois out-scored the Saffrons by five to one leading into the break with their work rate doubled and Antrim couldn’t get anything going in attack.

The hosts hustled, harried and forced mistakes and one phase typified this with Laois turning Antrim over and breaking with Willie Dunphy launching over from deep as the O’Moore men went in at the break 1-11 to 0-8 ahead.

Stern words were needed in the Antrim dressing room and they seemed to do the trick as the Saffrons hit the ground ruining with David Kearney, Ciaran Clarke and McManus (free) halving the deficit within four minutes, but Laois remained stubbornly ahead as Maher kept knocking over the frees to cancel out Antrim points, but the visitors were back to within one as Gerard Walsh hit a monster point and Ciaran Clarke added another.


Keelan Molloy tries to get away from Liam O'Connor


Keelan Molloy tries to get away from Liam O’Connor


Points from Dwyer and Dunphy left a goal in it again as the wides continued to stack up for Antrim, but the break they needed came on 62 minutes as James McNaughton made a powerful run through the middle and offloaded to McManus who cracked home to level at 1-17.

Maher briefly restored the Laois advantage with his ninth of the afternoon, but Conal Cunning levelled again before Paddy Burke shot Antrim into a lead as the game ticked into stoppage time.

McManus spurned two chances, one from a free, to give a little breathing space but substitute PJ Scully would not make the same mistake for Laois as he nailed a free to level and then from the poc-out, Stephen Rooney failed to secure possession with Dwyer pouncing on the mistake to gather, turn and sling between the posts to win it for Laois and leave Antri int he last chance saloon.

“It’s extremely frustrating when you are watching it,” added Gleeson.

“Wides, numerous unforced errors, turnovers, silly frees given away… It’s like all the previous games we didn’t win – they were all in our own hands and we didn’t execute, whether we didn’t have the ability to execute or we just weren’t able for it on the day.

“I think the ability is there, but we just have to look at it and go again. We can feel sorry for ourselves now or drive on.”

LAOIS: E Rowland (0-1 free); D Conway, S Downey, J Keyes (0-2); P Delaney, L O’Connor, R Mullaney; F Fennell, J Kelly; P Purcell (1-1), M Dowling, R King; W Dunphy (0-2), C Dwyer (0-4), S Maher (0-9, 4 frees, 2 65s).
Subs: PJ Scully (0-2, 1 sideline, 1 free) for M Dowling (50), A Corby for R King (56), S Bergin for S Maher (70).

ANTRIM: R Elliott; D Kearney (0-1), G Walsh (0-1), S Rooney; P Burke (0-2), E Campbell (0-1), R McGarry; K Molloy, D McKernan; M Bradley (0-2), D Nugent, C Cunning (0-3); S Elliott (0-1), N McManus (1-7, 0-7 frees), C Clarke (0-1).
Subs: C McCann for S Elliott (HT), J McNaughton for D Nugent (HT), C Johnston for D Kearney (58), E O’Neill for K Molloy (62), R McCambridge for M Bradley (69)

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