CLARE'S hurlers were pushed to the limit by a hugely impressive Carlow side, before claiming both league points by the slenderest of margins, 1-9 to 0-11, at Dr Cullen Park yesterday.
It was a heartbreaking defeat for Kevin Ryan's team, who were denied a draw when a long-range free from outstanding home full-back Shane Kavanagh drifted wide in injury-time.
Level four times over the course of the game, Carlow matched the Banner County in all aspects of the game and were unlucky not to have at least shared the points.
Despite winning by 0-24 to 0-12, Wexford were anything but impressive against Kildare at Wexford Park yesterday.
They may have been attempting to erase the memory of their disastrous showing against Carlow, but their first touch and striking was way below what manager Colm Bonnar would expect and, despite the score, Wexford rarely looked like getting a goal.
Laois remain in second spot in the table following a 0-20 to 1-11 victory over a depleted Down side at St Patrick's Park, Portaferry yesterday.
The winners can thank the superb free-taking by corner-forward Willie Hyland, who scored nine of their points with eight coming from frees.
Centre half-back Matthew Whelan also slotted over three long-range frees as Laois -- after a brilliant first half when assisted by a strong breeze -- had raced into a 0-12 to 0-3 interval lead.
Down restarted strongly with three points and a goal from Gareth Johnson reducing the lead to five points.
Four times points were exchanged before Matthew Whelan with two long-range frees and Hyland with two similar scores edged the eventual winners six ahead. In the final stages both sides exchanged points, but Laois easily held out for victory.
Antrim slipped to a 1-14 to 1-13 defeat against strugglers Westmeath at Cusack Park.
The hosts, without a win before the game, led 1-7 to 0-9 at half-time, with Shane McNaughton hitting five points for the Saffrons while Ciaran Curley netted for Westmeath.
Antrim started the second half strongly and McNaughton netted as the Ulstermen surged clear.
But McNaughton received a straight red in the 68th minute for striking as Westmeath fought back to clinch a surprise victory in which Derek McNicholas played a crucial second half role.