National Hurling League: Laois 0-20 Antrim 0-16
A haul of 13 points from Neil McManus was not enough as a brave effort from 14-man Antrim fell just short against Laois at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise on Saturday.
The home side’s determined second-half display ensured they claimed the two precious points on offer, but McManus almost single-handedly kept the pressure on right to the final whistle.
This was a must-win game for both sides and while Antrim managed to get back on level terms at the break after coming from six points down, the dismissal of centre-forward Eddie McCloskey midway through the second half severely damaged the visitors’ chances of victory.
After their long journey south, Antrim seemed to find it hard to settle and Laois shot six unanswered points after 10 minutes.
McManus finally got Antrim off the mark in the 12th minute and it seemed he could do no wrong, hitting just one wide as he fought a lone battle up front.
The star forward had Antrim back in the game by the 15th minute with three quick scores.
Antrim matched Laois score for score for the next 10 minutes before hitting five unanswered points in the final 10 minutes of the half. Darren Hamill and Karl Stewart were on target as the visitors got back on level terms at the break, 0-10 each.
Three Willie Hyland points edged the home side ahead on the restart, but points from McManus and Simon McCrory then had Antrim just a point behind.
Disaster struck in the 54th minute with McCloskey’s sending off, as he flicked back his hurley at an opponent as he soloed away with the ball.
That allowed Laois to open up a three-point gap and, as Antrim came in search of a goal to level, it took heroic defending by Laois to keep them at bay, before substitute Neil Foyle added the insurance point.
Laois: P Mullaney; JA Delaney, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan (0-1), B Galvin; J Walsh (0-1), S Burke (0-1); B Dunne (0-2), W Hyland (0-8,7f), C Murray (0-4), J Purcell, T Fitzgerald, J Brophy (0-1). Subs: E Houlehan for Purcell, N Foyle (0-2) for Fitzgerald, E Costelloe for Hyland.
Antrim: C O’Connell; N McAuley, C Donnelly, A Graffin, K McKeague, M Herron, J Campbell; K Stewart (0-1), C McFall; N McManus (0-13,10f), E McCloskey, S McCrory (0-1); D Hamill (0-1), C Carson, L Kearns. Subs: K Molloy for McKeague, S McNaughton for Kearns, T McCann for McCrory.
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)