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Wasteful Antrim still seek first win

David Mohan

Laois 2-21 Antrim 0-21: Antrim are still looking for their first win in this year's National Hurling League as they feel to a six-point defeat against Laois at O'Moore Park yesterday.

Second half goals from Neil Foyle and Ross King proved to be the difference in a topsy-turvy game that swung one way and the other.

King was the top-scorer, finishing with 1-7 while Conor Johnston starred for Antrim on what was his first start in the team. The St John's teenager finished with 0-7 – all from play – but his efforts were in vain as Antrim just fell short.

Antrim began brightly with Conor Johnston and a Paul Shiels free giving them a two point lead, but the hosts were soon into their stride with two Ross King scores and another from John Purcell giving them a seventh minute lead.

Conor Carson restored parity straight after, but the hosts were beginning to dominate around the middle with centre-back Matthew Whelan launching a series of attacks.

Another two King scores and a monster score from Charlie Dwyer helped the O'Moore County pull clear and while Neil McManus pegged one back for the Saffrons, the hosts were now in full control. Four points in a row – the last coming when Antrim goalkeeper Chris O'Connell diverted Tommy Fitzgerald's rasping drive over – made it 0-10 to 0-4 after 26 minutes.

Antrim's two-man inside forward line was not working early as Ciaran Clarke or Daniel McKernan were finding themselves isolated inside against four Laois defenders, but that changed with the introduction of the Clooney Gaels man who added some physicality.

The Saffrons did begin to rally late in the half, with Conor Johnston and O'Connell making an impression in attack. They helped the visitors outscore the hosts four to three in the closing stages to give Antrim some hope at the turnaround, with Laois' lead down to five – 0-13 to 0-8.

That hope became belief after the restart as Antrim completely took over. Kevin Ryan's talk at the break clearly had the desired effect as his side stormed into the game with three Shiels points and one apiece for PJ O'Connell and Conor Johnston to level. Johnston then gave Antrim a 48th minute lead – 0-14 to 0-13 – but they should have been further ahead only for some wayward shooting and they were made to pay as this game turned on its head once again moments later.

Ross King levelled with a free before Stephen Maher restored Laois' lead and then came the real turning point. From a long delivery by Joe Fitzpatrick, Neil Foyle – who had been introduced as a substitute just seconds before – got goal side on Conor McKinley and whipped the sliotar first time into the net.

Points from Willie Hyland, King and John Purcell followed at the hosts took a seven point lead.

To their credit, Antrim fought back with three points in a row to cut the gap to four, but the game was put beyond doubt on 66 minutes when King capped off a magnificent performance when he squeezed his shot into the net at the near post to seal the two points for Seamus Plunkett's side.

LAOIS: E Reilly; J A Delaney, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick (0-1), M Whelan (0-1 free), C Dunne; P Whelan, C Collier; J Purcell (0-2), W Hyland (0-1), D Palmer (0-1); R King (1-7, 0-5 frees), C Dwyer (0-3), T Fitzgerald (0-3). Subs: S Maher for C Collier (24), P Purcell for P Whelan (45), N Foyle (1-0) for D Palmer (50), PJ Scully (0-2) for T Fitzgerald (63), B Reddin for R King (68)

ANTRIM: C O'Connell; Ciaran Johnston, C McKinley, O McFadden; N McManus (0-1), N McAuley, E Campbell; D McKernan, P Shiels (0-6, 4 frees); D Hamill, C Carson (0-2), C McCann; N McKenna, Conor Johnston (0-7), C Clarke (0-2 frees). Subs: PJ O'Connell (0-2) for D McKernan (26), S Beatty for N McKenna (44), T McCann for C McCann (58), R McCambridge (0-1) for C Clarke (58).

Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow)

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