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Fitzgerald strike helps rejuvenated Laois seal the deal

Laois' renaissance under the stewardship of Seamus Plunkett took another giant step forward as they saw off Antrim by six points at O'Moore Park.

Five points in the last 15 minutes were enough for Laois to book a date with Carlow in the Leinster quarter-final, as Antrim failed to hit the heights they had shown against Westmeath. It was a huge win for Laois too, as a little over six months ago they had no manager and looked set to pull out of the Walsh Cup.

Since Plunkett answered the county's call, however, their fortunes have enjoyed a dramatic upturn, and victory here comes after securing the Division 2A league title earlier in the year.

They were solid if unspectacular throughout the game, winning by six points but hitting 12 wides and making a number of mistakes over the 70 minutes. Their work rate got them out of trouble, but against better opposition in the games ahead they will be made to pay for some of the mistakes they made here.

Antrim got off to a perfect start thanks to a point from a Shane McNaughton free as Laois looked nervy. Tommy Fitzgerald went some way to easing the nerves in the sixth minute, as he slalomed through the Antrim defence before thumping home a goal from close range.

Antrim responded well to that setback, outscoring Laois by three points over the next 10 minutes to take the lead at 1-1 to 0-5, with McNaughton hitting a brace of frees. Laois then went on a run themselves, with two points from Stephen Maher and one from Brian Dunne helping the home side take the lead.

They held that lead to half-time too, as Laois went to the dressing-room 1-6 to 0-7 ahead.

Maher gave them a good start to the second half with a point from a free inside of a minute, but Antrim hit back with a brace of frees from Neil McManus to leave just one point between them.

Antrim couldn't push on from there and Zane Keenan scored a crucial point. Buoyed by that, Laois went four points up as Keenan and Willie Hyland hit the target.

They kept themselves just ahead until the final 15 minutes, during which time they outscored Antrim by 0-5 to 0-1, as Keenan could even afford to point a late penalty to leave six between the teams at the final whistle.

Man of the match: Zane Keenan (Laois)

SCORERS – Laois: Z Keenan 0-5 (0-1 pen), S Maher 0-4 (2fs), T Fitzgerald 1-1, W Hyland, B Dunne 0-3 each; Antrim: S McNaughton (5fs), N McManus (2fs, 1 '65') 0-5 each, P Shiels, C McKinley, J McGreevey 0-1 each.

LAOIS – E Reilly 8; B Stapleton 7, B Campion 8, JA Delaney 7; J Fitzpatrick 7, M Whelan 7, G Burke 6; C Healy 8, J Walsh 6; S Maher 7, Z Keenan 8, B Dunne 8; J Brophy 6, W Hyland 7, T Fitzgerald 7. Subs: N Foyle 7 for Brophy (46), B Duggan 6 for Burke (53), C Dunne 6 for Walsh (60), PJ Scully for Fitzgerald (70)

ANTRIM – R McGarry 7; B McFall 6, A Graffin 7, C McKinley 7; O McFadden 6, N McAuley 7, P Shiels 7; J McGreevey 6, T McCloskey 7; N McManus 7, M Donnelly 5, E McCloskey 6; S McNaughton 7, C Carson 6, C Clarke 5. Subs: KB McShane 6 for Donnelly (h-t), D Hamill 7 for Clarke (h-t), R McCloskey 6 for McGreevey (45), S Casey 6 for E McCloskey (56).

Ref – C Lyons (Cork).

Irish Independent