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Antrim break duck with Laois win

Antrim 5-17 Laois 3-22

By John Martin

Antrim's hurlers bagged their first win of 2015 at Ballycastle yesterday - and what a way to break their duck.

The Saffrons edged a nail-biter against old rivals Laois in the Leinster SHC round-robin opener, Ciaran Clarke converting a 74th minute penalty to seal a one-point win for Antrim.

Antrim got off to a bright start and led by 1-2 to 0-1 after eight minutes. Paul Shiels put the home side into the lead with a free in the opening seconds, with Ross King restoring parity. The game's first goal arrived on four minutes when McManus picked out the bottom corner of Enda Rowland's net from 20 metres out.

Laois got a foothold in the game with two Zane Keenan frees, and Paddy Whelan's superb effort from play left three between the sides on 10 minutes. Then came Antrim's second major, Conor Johnston getting the faintest of touches to McManus's sideline cut.

On the quarter hour mark, Laois reduced the deficit to a single point when John Dillon was adjudged to have fouled PJ Scully, and Keenan stepped up to fire the resultant penalty past Chris O'Connell.

On 21 minutes the sides were all square at 2-3 to 1-6 but Laois were into the lead for the first time when Tommy Fitzgerald bundled the ball over the Antrim line for the game's fourth goal.

The O'Moore men held a five point advantage at the break, 2-13 to 2-8.

Laois extended their lead after the restart through King, but Antrim were back in the mix when a superb Johnston goal cut the gap to three, 3-10 to 2-16.

Antrim were back in front when Clarke struck for their fourth goal.

With five to go, the game remained in the melting pot, but when Ben Conroy's miss-hit effort looped over the outstretched stick of O'Connell, Laois held a 3-22 to 4-16 lead and looked to have sealed victory.

Clarke brought his tally to 1-7 for the day to cut the gap to two points, and he then capped a superb performance by converting a last minute penalty to seal a memorable win for Antrim.

Antrim: C O'Connell; R McCambridge, N McAuley (0-1), A Graffin; S McCrory, C McKinley, J Dillon; N McManus (1-2), M Bradley (0-1); M Dudley, P Shiels (0-3, 1f), E Campbell (0-1); C Clarke (2-7, 1-6f)), D McClean, C Johnston (2-1)

Subs: C Carson for D McClean (ht), D Murphy (0-1) for M Dudley (ht), T O Ciarain (52)

Laois: E Rowland; J Walsh, C Healy, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, C Dunne; Z Keenan (1-9, 1-8f), P Purcell (0-1); PJ Scully (0-3), P Whelan (0-1), C Dwyer (0-1); R King (0-3), W Hyland (0-3), T Fitzgerald (1-1)

Subs: B Conroy (1-0) for R King (56), J Campion for W Hyland (61), D Palmer for PJ Scully (70)

Referee: P O'Dwyer (Carlow)

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