A second-half performance of real grit and no little skill earned 14-man Antrim a well deserved win last night in Portlaoise.
They'd trailed by five points at half-time and had Neill McAuley red-carded shortly after the break, but in adversity they found inspiration and hurled Laois off the park for most of the second half to earn a first ever win in Leinster Championship hurling .
There was five minutes of sloppy hurling from both teams before the first score of the 2011 Championship courtesy of a well struck point from Laois midfielder Sean Bourke.
Antrim immediately found a more than adequate riposte though when Simon McRory smashed the ball to the net after Conor MacCanna's initial shot had been stopped on the line by Laois wing-back Brian Galvin.
Neil McManus tagged on a free a few minutes later to put Antrim three points to the good, but as the half progressed Laois were finding their stride more and more and four unanswered points edged them back in front again.
They rose the biggest cheer of the day so far from the paltry attendance of little more that 2,000 souls when Neil Foyle struck a fine goal after 24 minutes to put his team three points to the good.
Corner-forward John Brophy hand-passed to Foyle, and the Laois full-forward held his nerve to guide the ball past the advancing Chris O'Connell with some aplomb.
Antrim upped their application and reduced the deficit to a point but were rocked back on their heels again when Willie Hyland lashed a 21-yard free to the net for Laois and then followed it up with a fine point on the run to give his team a 2-7 to 1-5 half-time lead.
Antrim started the second half positively with two quick points, but then shot themselves square in the foot when wing-back Neil McAuley struck Owen Holohan off the ball and was red-carded for his moment of madness.
Rather than be disheartened by this set-back though, Antrim were suddenly energised as all 14 men found cause to hurl with a bite that had been absent up until now.
Laois in contrast seemed clueless how to make the most of their numerical advantage, and suddenly all the traffic was moving towards their goal.
Thanks mainly to the metronomic accuracy of Neil McManus' free-taking, Antrim had drawn level by the 48th minute -- 1-12 to 2-9 -- and upped the pace even more after reaching this water-shed. Two points from McManus sandwiched a fine score from substitute Michael Armstrong and put the Ulster men three points ahead.
Just when it looked like their momentum was unstoppable, Laois levelled the game with a freakish goal against the run of play when Antrim full-back Aaron Graffin's attempted block of Owen Holohan's shot sent the ball arcing over stranded goalkeeper Chris O'Connell.
Antrim weren't to be denied though. Corner-forward Conor MacCann suddenly caught fire in the final 10 minutes and three points from him earned them the prize of a provincial quarter-final against Wexford.
Scorers -- Antrim: N McManus 0-10 (8f), K Stewart, C MacCanna both 0-4, S McCrory 1-0, M Armstrong, C Herron, N McAuley (f) all 0-1
Laois: W Hyland 1-4 (3f), N Foyle, O Holohan both 1-1, W Dunphy, M Whelan (2f), both 0-2, S Burke, J Walsh 0-1
Antrim: C O'Connell; C McGuinness, A Graffen, K Molloy; N McAuley, M Herron, C Herron; P Shiels, b McFall; S McRory, K Stewart, J Black; C MacCanna, N McManus, K McKeegan. Subs: M Armstrong for J Black (43), D Hamill for K McKeegan (55), K McGourty for B McFall (65)
Laois: P Mullane; JA Delaney, B Smith, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, B Galvin; J Walsh, S Burke; B Dunne, N Costello, W Hyland; O Holohan, N Foyle, J Brophy. Subs: C Dunne for J Fitzpatrick (HT), W Dunphy for B Dunne (37), S Dollard for N Costello
Referee: A Kelly (Galway)
Sunday Indo Sport