Late McAleese strike sees Antrim rise above disarray
Antrim 2-15 Laois 1 - 16
Antrim pulled off a famous victory in O'Moore Park yesterday as they came from eight points down to beat Laois in this football qualifier.
It compounds the misery on the O'Moore men, who suffered a similar second-half collapse against Kildare the week before in the Leinster quarter-final.
Antrim appeared to be in disarray coming into the game, with St Gall's trio Connor Burke and brothers CJ and Kieran McGourty dropped for playing a club match the night before.
In the early stages, they were under the cosh as they were three points down after 14 minutes, Donie Kingston hitting three points as Laois eased into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead.
Ross Munnelly tapped over a free after a foul on Kingston, before the big full-forward got his third point as Justin Crozier struggled to limit his influence.
Munnelly rounded off good work from Paul Kingston to push Laois four clear, and Niall Donoher and Darren Strong quickly added more scores to leave Antrim in major trouble with barely 20 minutes played.
With Antrim on the ropes, Paul Kingston made things worse for them by hammering a shot to the top corner after he sprinted clear of the visitors' defence.
Antrim almost responded with a goal within a minute, only for Conor Murray to see his shot brilliantly saved by Graham Brody, with Ryan Murray pointing the rebound. Pollock added another free, but Munnelly then won, and pointed, a 30-yard free to get Laois motoring again, and they led 1-9 to 0-5 at half time.
The result should have been well and truly put to bed four minutes into the second half when Laois were awarded a penalty, but Munnelly's effort was saved, and how the home side would rue that miss.
Antrim came roaring back after that, starting with a point from Murray, and they slowly chipped away at the lead, each score building their confidence. Then, a long ball forward from Murray found brother Ryan 14 yards out, and he slipped his shot under Brody for a goal.
That left just one point between them, as Laois' good work in building up their eight-point lead evaporated. It was left to Donie Kingston to steady the ship, as he hit three points in six minutes to put Laois back in control of the game.
Once again, however, the O'Moore men couldn't find the composure to see out the game, and Antrim took full advantage. The impressive Ryan Murray slotted over his fourth point, and a free from Michael Pollock had Antrim within two points with time almost up.
With the scent of victory in the air, Antrim showed their killer instinct, as they picked their way through the Laois defence before Dermot McAleese rolled a shot to the bottom corner to give them the lead for the first time.
Laois threw everything forward in search of an equaliser, but Patrick McBride had the final say, as his point sealed a famous win for the Saffrons.
"The boys just dug in deep and were absolutely fantastic in the second half," said Antrim manager Frank Fitzsimons. "At half-time we walked in and spoke to the boys and told them that we had to step up or get on the bus and go home and, to be fair, every last one of them stepped up in the second half. It's a fantastic result for us."
Scorers - Antrim: R Murray 1-4, M Pollock 0-5 (4f), D McAleese 1-0, P McBride 0-2, B Hasson, O Gallagher, C Murray, C Kerr (f) 0-1 each. Laois: D Kingston 0-7 (1f), R Munnelly 0-4 (2f), P Kingston 1-0, D Strong, N Donoher 0-2 each, E O'Carroll 0-1.
Antrim: C Kerr; N Delargy, J Crozier, D Lynch; P McAleer, J Laverty, T Scullion; B Hasson, O Gallagher; M Sweeney, C Murray, M Armstrong; P McBride, M Pollock, R Murray. Subs: D McAleese for McAleer (29), J Dowling for Armstrong (ht), R McGrady for Gallagher (63).
Laois: G Brody; G Hanrahan, M Timmons, S Attride; D Strong, D O'Connor, C Boyle; B Quigley, J O'Loughlin; N Donoher, R Munnelly, E O'Carroll; C Begley, D Kingston, P Kingston. Subs: R Kehoe for Attride (47 mins), B Sheehan for O'Carroll (62), C Meredith for Munnelly (63), J Finn for P Kingston (67).
Referee: D O'Mahoney (Tipperary).
Sunday Indo Sport