Laois hold on to Liam MacCarthy Cup status as they see off Antrim

Séamus Plunkett’s side go into Monday’s qualifier as Antrim return to Tier 2

Charles Dwyer celebrates scoring a point late in the game for Laois during the All-Ireland SHC qualifier preliminary round against Antrim at Parnell Park. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

Charles Dwyer celebrates scoring a point late in the game for Laois during the All-Ireland SHC qualifier preliminary round against Antrim at Parnell Park. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

 

Laois 2-27 Antrim 2-21

Laois timed their first win of 2021 to perfection, coming good when it counted most to shrug off Antrim and secure their MacCarthy Cup status for another season.

Without a win since Séamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett returned as manager, the 2019 All-Ireland quarter-finalists summoned their best display of the season at Parnell Park.

There were admittedly some nervous moments and they had an 11-point lead after 41 minutes whittled down to just two points at the second water break.

Substitute Eoin O’Neill scored two goals for Antrim in that period while Neil McManus had a penalty saved as the Saffrons rallied.

Laois weren’t helped by the 49th minute red card dismissal of Ross King either, while they were temporarily down to 13 players as full back Seán Downey was also sent to the sin bin for the foul that led to Antrim’s 45th-minute penalty.

Laois manager Séamus Plunkett giving instructions late in the game at Parnell Park. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho
Laois manager Séamus Plunkett giving instructions late in the game at Parnell Park. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

But Antrim, conquerors of Clare in the league and buoyed by their draw with Wexford in the same competition, couldn’t push on for another landmark result.

The second water break came at just the right time from Laois’ perspective and they surged ahead from there, outscoring Antrim by 1-6 to 0-5 in the final quarter.

Paddy Purcell scored 2-2 in total for Laois and his second goal on the hour mark was decisive as it pushed Laois eight points clear and broke the back of Antrim’s fightback.

There were huge performances too from Laois goalkeeper Enda Rowland who pulled off a series of important saves, while free-taker PJ Scully tallied 0-10 and converted two sideline cuts.

The preliminary round win allows Laois to advance to Monday morning’s draw for the qualifiers proper, while Antrim will return to Tier 2 hurling in 2022.

“This means that Laois are playing Championship hurling again next year, it gives us a chance to get reorganised and refocused and to bounce back into a Leinster hurling championship next year,” said manager Plunkett.

“This has been a very, very tough year. A new management team came in in a pandemic for starters and in my time involved with teams it’s probably the biggest injury crisis of key players in any team I’ve been involved with.

“So I have to give incredible credit to each and every Laois player who dug out that win.”

Laois brought a ferocity to the game from the off and hit the first water break with a 0-11 to 0-4 lead. Purcell’s first goal in stoppage time left the midlanders 1-17 to 0-10 clear at half-time and apparently cruising.

But it was only the beginning of a dramatic period as Antrim battled bravely with sub O’Neill throwing them a lifeline with goals in the 44th and 52nd minutes.

LAOIS: E Rowland; D Hartnett, S Downey, L Cleere; P Delaney (0-3), C McEvoy (0-1), R Mullaney; FC Fennell (0-1), J Kelly (0-3); P Purcell (2-2), W Dunphy (0-3), C Collier (0-1); C Dwyer (0-1), PJ Scully (0-10, seven frees, two s/l), R King (0-2).

Subs: J Ryan for Mullaney (53 mins), E Lyons for Collier (58), J Keyes for Purcell (65), A Dunphy for W Dunphy (72), C Comerford for Dwyer (75).

ANTRIM: R Elliott; D McMullan, S Rooney, G Walsh; E Campbell, P Burke, A O’Brien; K Molloy (0-3), Ciarán Johnston; N McManus (0-4), M Bradley, J McNaughton (0-2, one free); Conor Johnston (0-1), C Cunning (0-2), C Clarke (0-8, seven frees, one 65).

Subs: A Crawford for McMullan (18 mins), J Maskey for Campbell, E O’Neill (2-0) for Bradley (both h-t), S Elliott (0-1) for Conor Johnston (59), M Donnelly for O’Brien (71).

Referee: S Cleere (Kilkenny).

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