Paul Shiels dazzles to preserve Antrim's unbeaten record
Laois 0-20 Antrim 0-22
Paul Shiels fired eight points as Antrim finished the Leinster SHC Round Robin group unbeaten to ensure a quarter-final date with Wexford next Sunday, after a two-point win over Laois in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise yesterday.
The Cuchulainns clubman kept Antrim in touch for large periods of this game, in a tie which saw Laois hold a five-point lead in the 33rd minute, but the visitors broke ahead seven minutes after the restart, and failed to trail for the remainder of the game.
In truth, Kevin Ryan's side struggled in the opening half, and trailed by 0-12 to 0-8 at half-time.
Clough-Ballacolla duo Stephen Maher and Willie Hyland equally shared 10 points in an opening 35 minutes which saw the Saffrons fail to take a lead.
Caught by a poor finish against Laois in the league, Ryan always felt his side would do better.
"It was a goal or two that killed us the last day," he said. "There's very little in it with ourselves and Laois always. I felt we could bring them to the wire and we held on well.
"There were some very good scores and it was fought in a very honest, hard and tough type of spirit."
Hyland and Maher registered five points each for Laois in the opening half, but Seamus Plunkett's side were on the back foot, as Antrim fired six unanswered points inside nine minutes of the restart.
By full-time Laois would register 13 wides but more importantly Antrim's brilliance, saw the visitors deservedly carve out a hard-earned win.
With a firm foothold at midfield, Antrim could do little wrong in the third quarter as scores from Ciaran Clarke, Conor Johnston, Shiels, Conor McCann, Conor Carson and PJ O'Connell ensured a 0-14 to 0-12 lead after 44 minutes.
Laois kept in touch thanks to Neil Foyle, Ross King and Maher.
Leading by 0-20 to 0-16 in the 62nd minute, Antrim conceded a penalty after Tommy Fitzgerald was stopped by Chrissy O'Connell.
Vitally, the Loughgiel Shamrocks goalkeeper blocked Reilly's resulting penalty shot, and although Laois hit the next three points, Antrim stayed ahead with two of the final three scores, as PJ O'Connell and McCann registered points to ensure a two-point win.
ANTRIM: C O'Connell; A Graffin (0-2), N McAuley, Ciaran Johnston; N McManus, C McKinley, O McFadden; S McCrory, E Campbell (0-1); C Carson (0-1), C McCann (0-3), P Shiels (0-8, 8f); C Clarke, Conor Johnston (0-2), PJ O'Connell (0-3). Subs: B McFall for McCrory (22); M Bradley for Ciaran Johnston (HT); D Hamill for McFadden (39); S McAfee (0-2) for Clarke (55); M Donnelly for Conor Johnston (67).
LAOIS: E Reilly; J A Delaney, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, T Delaney; D Palmer, P Whelan (0-1); C Dwyer, J Purcell, W Hyland (0-5); N Foyle (0-1), T Fitzgerald (0-1), S Maher (0-9, 5f). Subs: R King for Fitzgerald (Blood 30-32); R King (0-2) for Purcell (46); D Maher for JA Delaney (46); J Campion (0-1) for Palmer (47); J Brophy for P Whelan (62).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).