Superb comeback sees Saffrons surprise Laois
Laois 1-16 Antrim 2-15
When Laois led by seven points at half-time in this All-Ireland Football Championship Round One Qualifier in Portlaoise on Saturday, it was anticipated the hosts were on course for a comfortable victory over Antrim.
However, an inspired second-half performance from the Saffrons turned this game on its head as they took over on the field and eventually on the scoreboard thanks to Dermott McAleese's goal with one minute to play to complete a quite magnificent day for the Ulster side.
The day started badly for Antrim as three players listed to start - Connor Burke and brothers, Kieran and Conor McGourty - were made to sit it out because they played a club hurling game that was incredibly fixed for the previous evening. The three players and Fitzsimons were left in a no-win situation, so in came Paddy McAleer, Paddy McBride and Ryan Murray.
Played in fine sunshine, Antrim opened brightly but could not find the target, hitting five wides in the opening 10 minutes, with Micky Pollock's free that cancelled out a Donie Kingston score all they had to show for their efforts.
Kingston and Ross Munnelly were to have a big say as he hit seven points between them in the opening half with John O'Loughlin and wing-back Darren Strong also getting in on the act to help establish a 0-7 to 0-1 lead for the hosts.
Antrim goalkeeper, Chris Kerr was to have no chance on 24 minutes when Paul Kingston bore down on goal from the left and blasted to home to open a nine point gap.
The sides traded scores before an effort from Ryan Murray and a Pollock free reduced the gap to six, but Laois had the final say of the half with a Munnelly point.
Darren Strong did extend the gap to eight a minute after the break, but Antrim were already looking like a different side.
The introduction of Jack Dowling in midfield gave them a much-needed physical presence.
Paddy McBride dropped deep and this allowed him to run at the home defence at pace.
Still, Laois had the chance to be out of sight when they had a penalty on 39 minutes after Brendan Quigley was dragged back by Niall Delargy, but Kerr saved brilliantly.
While Laois tagged on a score straight after, Antrim replied with four points in as many minutes to halve the deficit before they really announced their arrival on 47 minutes when Conor Murray sent a great ball into younger brother Ryan and the pace of the Lámh Dhearg man left his marker for dead before finishing coolly to the net.
Laois did respond well with four of the next five scores to lead by four on 56 minutes.
Ryan Murray and Kingston traded points, but Antrim were looking stronger and scores from Benny Hasson and Pollock made it a two point game before McAleese give his side their first lead of the game on 69 minutes.
There was still work to be done, but Antrim defended resolutely, denying Laois the chance to shoot for an equaliser and eventually turned the ball over before breaking forward and Paddy McBride kicked the insurance score. Laois' Brendan Quigley allowed his frustration to boil over and was sent off for an off-the ball altercation with Mark Sweeney as time elapsed, while Antrim's players, management and supporters celebrated wildly on a glory day for the Saffrons.
LAOIS: G Brody, D O'Connor, M Timmons, S Attride, D Strong (0-2), G Hanrahan, C Begley, B Quigley, J O'Loughlin (0-1), N Donoher (0-1), C Boyle, E O'Connor (0-1), R Munnelly (0-4, 2 frees), D Kingston (0-7, 1 free), P Kingston (1-0). Subs: R Kehoe for S Attride (48 mins), B Sheehan for E O'Carroll (62 mins), C Meredith for R Munnelly (63 mins), J Finn for P Kingston (68 mins).
ANTRIM: C Kerr (0-1 free), N Delargy, J Crozier, D Lynch, P McAleer, J Laverty, T Scullion, O Gallagher (0-1), B Hasson (0-1), M Sweeney, C Murray, M Armstrong, P McBride (0-2), M Pollock (0-5, 4 frees), R Murray (1-5). Subs: D McAleese (1-0) for P McAleer (29 mins), J Dowling for M Armstrong (HT), R McGrady for O Gallagher (64 mins).
Referee: Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary)