Friday 23 August 2019

O Flatharta heads for exit as Antrim 'make a statement'

Antrim 2-15 Laois 1-16 SFC Qualifiers Round 1A

Antrim's Dermot McAleese celebrates scoring his side's second goal
Antrim's Dermot McAleese celebrates scoring his side's second goal
Brendan Quigley, Laois, and Mark Sweeney, Antrim, in a tussle late in the game before Quigley was shown the red card by referee Derek O'Mahoney
Antrim goalkeeper Chris Kerr saves a shot from Donal Kingston
Laois could be on the lookout for a new manager, after Tomas O Flatharta's quick exit from O’Moore Park
Antrim players from left, Conor Murray, Patrick McBride, and Owen Gallagher celebrate after the game

Rory Delaney

Antrim produced a stunning comeback to claim a shock win over Laois in O'Moore Park on Saturday.

Despite their second-half collapse against Kildare the week before, Laois were expected to get back to winning ways in this one, but instead all they managed was another implosion.

Leading by eight points early in the second half, Tomas O Flatharta's side somehow contrived to throw away that lead and slump to a damaging two point loss.

Once Antrim found some form in the second half the home side wilted quickly, with Ryan Murray leading charge for visitors.

His goal in the 45th minute turned the game on its head, and the man of the match reckoned the win would silence some of Antrim's critics.


"Since the Fermanagh game people have been saying there's no-one in Antrim that can score, we're missing this or we're missing that, but this just shows that when we get going together, we're more than capable of doing a job for the county," said Murray.

"So hopefully that puts a statement out there that for anybody out there doubting, to give the players a chance."

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Trailing by seven at the break, the inspirational corner-forward confessed that Antrim went out in the second half just to give a good account of themselves.

"We just said, what's the point in training for however many months, three nights a week, and not put in a performance we deserve," he explained.

"We just said we'd keep working; even if Laois got a few points on us, we'd keep going."

Remarkably, Murray, who scored 1-4 from play, wasn't even slated to start. He only got the nod after St Gall's trio Connor Burke and brothers CJ and Kieran McGourty were dropped for reportedly playing a club game on Friday night.

There was little in the first half to suggest anything other than a comfortable Laois win, as Donie Kingston hit three points to help them into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 14 minutes.

Antrim were struggling for scores and Laois kept pulling further ahead, with Paul Kingston's excellent goal stretching their lead to nine.

Antrim eventually hit back, Murray and Michael Pollock finding the target, but Laois still led 1-9 to 0-5 at the break.

They went eight clear on the restart, but it was all Antrim after that. Four points in a row were followed by Murray's goal, and Laois were in freefall.

Kingston rattled off four points to try and steady the ship, but Antrim came back and Dermot McAleese's late goal gave them a famous win.

Murray hopes this is just the start, saying: "It's something we can build on and try to get a run through the back door. If we play like that I fancy our chances against anyone."

Laois are likely to be on the lookout for a new manager, as Tomas O Flatharta made a quick exit from O'Moore Park, without appearing for the post-match interviews. Some reports suggested that the Kerryman had left the ground even before some of his players had even made it out of the dressing-room.

His two-year stint in charge has been beset by erratic performances and raft of players have left the panel over the last 12 months.

Scorers - Antrim: R Murray 1-4, M Pollock 0-5 (4fs), 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 (2fs), P Kingston 1-0, D Strong, N Donoher 0-2 each, E O'Carroll 0-1.

Antrim - C Kerr 7; N Delargy 6, J Crozier 5, D Lynch 6; P McAleer 5, J Laverty 6, T Scullion 6; B Hasson 6, O Gallagher 6; M Sweeney 6, C Murray 7, M Armstrong 6; P McBride 7, M Pollock 7, R Murray 9. Subs: D McAleese 7 for McAleer (29), J Dowling 7 for Armstrong (h-t), R McGrady 6 for Gallagher (63).

Laois: G Brody 7; G Hanrahan 5, M Timmons 5, S Attride 5; D Strong 6, D O'Connor 5, C Boyle 5; B Quigley 4, J O'Loughlin 5; N Donoher 6, R Munnelly 5, E O'Carroll 5; C Begley 5, D Kingston 7, P Kingston 5. Subs: R Kehoe 5 for Attride (47), B Sheehan 4 for O'Carroll (62), C Meredith 5 for Munnelly (63), J Finn for P Kingston (67).

Ref - D O'Mahoney (Tipperary)

Game at a glance

Man of the Match: Ryan Murray (Antrim)

He wasn't even supposed to start the game, but he certainly took his chance, scoring 1-4 from play and causing the Laois defence problems throughout the game. For the home side, Donie Kingston's performance was the only positive to take from the game.

Talking point

Laois' performances on consecutive weekends have been woeful, and it is likely to be the end of Tomas O Flatharta's time in charge.

Magic moment

The reaction of the small but vocal Antrim crowd after the final whistle was fantastic, as they applauded their team off the field and were still singing long after the game was over.

Ref watch

Derek O'Mahoney from Tipperary did well. He got all the major calls right, and could be happy with his display.

What's next?

Antrim await the qualifier draw today, while for Laois, there is surely both soul and manager searching ahead as they come to grips with a bitter loss.

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