Antrim lose for first time at hands of Laois
Antrim 1-19 Laois 2-24
Laois inflicted a first defeat for Antrim on Saturday afternoon in the McDonagh Cup, by an eight-point margin.
The midlanders were slicker, more cohesive and punished any errors from the Saffrons, especially in the first half.
While Laois were worthy of their win, the O'Moore County were indebted to the brilliance of their 'keeper Enda Rowland.
The Laois shot-stopper recorded three points for his side with a trio of gargantuan frees while also pulling off a quite scintillating save to deny Neil McManus from a penalty and deny Antrim on numerous occasions throughout the 70 minutes.
The home side held a 10-point lead by the half-time break thanks largely to goals coming in the fifth minute from Paddy Purcell and the 26th from Willie Dunphy.
Dunphy's goal proved to be the pivotal moment of the match. With Laois leading by six points, Rowland had denied McManus from the penalty spot while John Lennon's point and Dunphy's major came within 60 seconds of Rowland's heroics.
A seven-point swing in favour of the home side was ultimately decisive.
The home side played an expansive brand of hurling with forwards Purcell and Ross King giving the Saffrons a torrid afternoon.
Mark Kavanagh and Rowland contributed nine points from nine efforts throughout the 70 minutes while Cha Dwyer finished with 0-4 after an excellent second half.
Antrim improved after the interval with Keelan Molloy and Ryan McCambridge top scoring from open play, both Saffrons with 0-4 while McManus ended the 70 minutes with 1-3, but the 10-point deficit at the interval was always going to be a huge ask to come back from, despite the help of a substantial breeze.
Antrim created goal chances in the second half but McManus' 61st minute drive was all they had to show for their considerable efforts.
The Antrim man breached the Laois line from a thunderous free despite the best efforts of six Laois men on the line.
Antrim continued to press but Rowland denied Ciaran Clarke and James McNaughton while substitute Eoghan Campbell and Clarke again went close after a 30-yard free from McManus rattled the bottom of a Laois upright.
The Saffrons were reduced to 14 men with six minutes of normal time remaining when the impressive Ryan McCambridge saw red for a second yellow card following his foul on Laois captain Paddy Purcell. That effectively ended any hopes Antrim had of making a dramatic comeback in the closing stages.
Antrim's next game is on June 1 as they travel to Tullamore to face Offaly as they attempt to get back to winning ways, while Laois wait until the following week before they travel to Tralee and face Kerry.
Antrim: Ryan Elliott; Stephen Rooney, John Dillon, Phelim Duffin; Paddy Burke (0-1), Conor Boyd, Matthew Donnelly; Neil McManus (1-3, 1-1f's, 1 '65), Nicky McKeague; James McNaughton (0-2, 2f's), Ryan McCambridge (0-4), Keelan Molloy (0-4); Ciaran Clarke (0-2), Conor McCann, Eoin O'Neill (0-2). Subs: David Kearney (0-1) for M Donnelly (HT); Nigel Elliott for N McKeague (HT); Martin Burke for J Dillon (45); Eoghan Campbell for J McNaughton (45); Daniel McCloskey for C McCann (64)
Laois: Enda Rowland (0-3, 3f's); Donncha Hartnett, Matthew Whelan (0-1), Joe Phelan; Padraig Delaney, Ryan Mullaney, Lee Cleere; John Lennon (0-1), Jack Kelly (0-2); Charles Dwyer (0-4), Willie Dunphy (1-00), Paddy Purcell (1-1); Mark Kavanagh (0-7, 4 f's, 2 '65s), Eanna Lyons, Ross King (0-1). Subs: Aaron Dunphy (0-2) for E Lyons (27); Conor Phelan (0-1) for J Lennon (45); Stephen Bergin (0-1) for P Delaney (49); Eoin Gaughan for R King (58); Eric Killeen for L Cleere (62)
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).