Laois progress to Tailteann Cup final after sweeping Antrim aside

Goal strikes either side of half-time by Brian Byrne instrumental in O’Moore County’s victory over rivals

Laois's Brian Byrne celebrates after scoring his side's third goal of the match against Antrim in the Tailteann Cup semi-final. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho
Laois 3-12 Antrim 1-13

Goals in either half from Brian Byrne proved pivotal as Laois accounted for Antrim by five points in their Tailteann Cup semi-final at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon.

In doing so, they exorcised the demons from the corresponding stage last year when Down blitzed them for eight goals. But for Antrim, it proved another disappointing loss after falling to eventual winners Meath in 2023.

The contest took its time sparking into life with Antrim settling themselves through early points from Colm McLarnon and Dominic McEnhill before a sluggish Laois opened their account thanks to Paul Kingston in the 7th minute.

A more controlled Antrim restored their two-point advantage through the first of three excellent first-half points from Patrick McBride while Mark Barry replied for Laois in what was a cagey opening quarter.

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Michael Byrne and Barry traded placed balls as the half evolved while McBride and Evan O’Carroll did likewise from open play as Laois began to enjoy a greater degree of territory in their opponents’ half.

McBride’s third point in the 25th minute regained Antrim’s control on the scoreboard but Andy McEntee’s team failed to score for the remainder of the half as their movement up front lost an element of incision.

Laois took full advantage as Barry popped over another score before they pounced for the game’s opening goal in the 28th minute as Brian Byrne fired home confidently past Michael Byrne after a blocked Kevin Swayne shot had run favourably into his path.

The half finished with James Kelly curling over a sublime point as Laois entered the break with a deserved 1-7 to 0-7 lead.

Whatever momentum that Laois enjoyed at half-time was surrendered within five minutes of the restart as Antrim restored parity through successive scores by McBride, McLarnon and McEnhill.

The pivotal moment seemed to have arrived in the 43rd minute as Eoin Lowry spurned a glorious chance to revive Laois’s fortunes, firing off the crossbar from close range, and from the resultant counterattack, Antrim’s Patrick McAleer ghosted in behind to roll home past Killian Roche.

Remarkably, Antrim failed to score for the ensuing nineteen minutes, allowing Laois, who endured a barren period of 17 minutes themselves, to regain control as Swayne palmed home from close range.

Roche joined the play to telling effect to keep his side on the front foot and despite O’Carroll being black-carded in the 65th minute, they secured their success as Byrne raced through for another composed finish three minutes later.

LAOIS: K Roche (0-1); B Dempsey, M Timmons, J Kelly (0-2); S Lacey, S Fingleton, B Byrne (2-0); D Larkin, C Heffernan; M Barry (0-4, one free), E Lowry, K Swayne (1-0); P Kingston (0-1), E O’Carroll (0-2), N Dunne (0-2, one mark). Subs: R Murphy for Lowry (46), E Buggie for Lacey (46), K Lillis for Swayne (68), S Fitzpatrick for Byrne (71), C Burke for Larkin (72).

ANTRIM: M Byrne (0-1, ‘45); D Lynch, E Walsh, K Keenan; J McDonnell, J Finnegan, D McAleese; C Hynds, P McAleer (1-0); Ruairí McCann (Creggan) (0-1), P McBride (0-5), C McLarnon (0-2); M Jordan, Ruairí McCann (Aghagallon), D McEnhill (0-3, one free, one mark). Subs: P Healy for McDonnell (half-time), E Hynds for McAleer (57), C Hand (0-1) for McLarnon (57), N Burns for Lynch (60), R McQuillan for McCann (Aghagallon).

Referee: Liam Devenney (Mayo).