The Laois senior hurlers face a soul-searching three week wait for their final Championship game of 2008, after their eight point defeat to Antrim on Saturday pushed them closer to relegation.
Played out in front of a crowd of barely 200 people, most of which were Laois supporters, Niall Rigney’s men trailed from very early on. Antrim found the back of the Laois net with less than 20 seconds on the clock, and despite getting back on level terms on four separate occasions in the first half, they lacked the ruthless streak needed to kick on and take control of the game.
Antrim were no great shakes themselves, but once they got ahead they knew how to maintain the advantage, and anytime Laois got within striking distance they found a score to keep ahead.
The refereeing of Limerick man Jason O’Mahoney didn’t help matters for Laois either, as he made a raft of bewildering decisions over the course of the game. John A Delaney saw red in the second half for two yellow cards, the first of which was handed out for an offence which was barely a foul. James Walsh also felt the effects of the referee, when he was penalized for overcarrying the ball in the first half after he was stopped in his tracks by a blow to the face.
While O’Mahoney wasn’t the reason Laois lost, he certainly didn’t help, but at the end of the game, Antrim were fully deserving of the win. They couldn’t have dreamt of a better start, with full-forward Paddy Richmond setting up Shane McNaughton for a goal after just 17 seconds. Richmond caused Laois major problems early on, with his strength under the high ball leading to scores on more than one occasion.
The Laois response was swift, as Noel Costello pointed a free less than a minute later to open the Laois account after Eoin Houlihan had been fouled. John Brophy added another point, this time from play, but McNaughton was on target for Antrim again soon after to keep his side two points ahead.
Paddy Richmond added another for the Northerners in the fifth minute, as Darren Maher struggled to cope with his strength. Noel Costello once again provided the response for Laois with another free, before further scores from Colin Delaney and Costello drew the sides’ level for the first time.
Antrim regained the lead in bizarre fashion, as a high ball into Paddy Richmond saw the referee blow for a free in to Antrim. Richmond was standing on the edge of the small square, but wasn’t awarded a penalty, and Paul Shiels settled for a point from the free.
Shiels and Willy Hyland traded points in the space of a minute, before an excellent individual score from Tommy Fitzgerald and a Costello free drew Laois level again.
Just like before, however, Paul Shiels nudged Antrim back in front, and Laois went sore for score with them for the next few minutes, with Eoin Houlihan leveling matters, Eddie McCloskey responding for Antrim and Noel Costello doing likewise for Laois.
In the middle of all that, Antrim were awarded a penalty when Paddy Richmond was hauled down in the square.
Goalkeeper Karl McKeegan made the long trip up field to take it, but had to trot back empty handed when Paddy Mullaney and Brian Campion combined to keep his shot out.
Antrim finished the half much better than Laois though, as three unanswered points saw them lead by a goal at the break.
Laois couldn’t afford to start the second half as badly as they did the first, but unfortunately that was to be their fate. Antrim hit another three unanswered points, with Noel Costello missing frees for Laois that would have broken the run of scores against them.
With a six point lead, Antrim were almost untouchable and despite getting back to within three points, Laois never really got into a position to win the game. Antrim’s second goal killed off the game, as Paddy Richmond finally got the goal his display looked like delivering for much of the game.
The fight goes on now for Laois, and the next round will either bring victory or a knock-out blow.
LAOIS: Paddy Mullaney; John A Delaney, Darren Maher, Brian Campion; Canice Coonan, Mick McEvoy, Joe Phelan; Colin Delaney, James Walsh; Willie Hyland, Noel Costello, Eoin Houlihan; Tommy Fitzgerald, John Brophy, Niall Holmes. Subs: John Rowney for Costello (39 mins); Conor Dunne for Coonan (56 mins); Shane Hanlon for Houlihan (58 mins)
ANTRIM: Ryan McGarry; Aaron Graffin, Cormac Donnelly, Michael Kettle; Ciaran Herron, Karl McKeegan, Johnny Campbell; Eddie McCloskey, PJ O’Connell; Michael Herron, Karl Stewart, Paddy Magill; Shane McNaughton, Paddy Richmond, Paul Shiels. Subs: Colm Duffin for O’Connell (41 mins); Conor McKinley for Herron (66 mins); James McKeague for Magill (70 mins)
Referee: Jason O’Mahony (Limerick)
Man of the Match
The Ballinakill man took his fair share of punishment over the seventy minutes, particularly in the first half when he was briefly forced off with a cut to the head. He never stopped working though, and deserved much more for his industry and effort. A repeat performance in three weeks time would be most welcome.
Score of the Game
The honour here goes to John Brophy for his wonderful point in the opening minutes. After collecting the ball thirty yards out, he was forced into the left corner by some good Antrim defending. It didn’t faze him though, and once he got room to shoot, he split the posts from an awkward angle for a great point.
Save of the Game
Despite saving a penalty in the first half Paddy Mullaney loses out here to Karl McKeegan, who produced a marvelous full-length save to deny Willie Hyland a goal late on.
The decision to start Darren Maher at full back was a strange one from the outset, and it immediately backfired on Laois. Maher is still finding his feet at this level, but was thrown in at the deep end here on Paddy Richmond who was bigger and stronger than him.
Richmond caused havoc in the opening minutes on the inexperienced Maher, while Brian Campion and John A Delaney, two more experienced campaigners, took up positions in the corners.
Filed under: Laois Hurling