LAOIS 0-21 ANTRIM 1-16 MANAGERLESS Antrim plunged into relegation trouble at Casement Park yesterday as they slumped to Laois in their final Guinness SHC qualifier.
With three defeats in the play-offs, Antrim are bottom of Section A and face an improved Dublin side with the winners staying in the Liam McCarthy Cup next season and the losers sliding to the Christy Ring competition.
The home side had to be hurriedly re-arranged in the early stages of the game. Colm McGuckian failed a fitness test with his spot at centre-forward going to Michael Herron and in the opening minutes of the game the home side lost full-back Kieran Kelly and corner-back Anile Ó Cairealláin through injury.
Kelly damaged his hamstring after just 60 seconds and was replaced by Conor Cunning while Ó Cairealláinn had a leg injury. Joey Scullion was his replacement with the defence completely re-arranged.
It was far from spine-tingling action during the first half but the closeness of the scores kept the handful of spectators interested.
The scores were level three times including at the interval when the score read Antrim 1-7, Laois 0-10, but those 10 strikes by the visitors suggested that there was more power in the play.
James Young was deadly accurate from long-range frees and also mighty in the air while centre-forward Liam Tynan was strong in the challenge. However, when Karl McKeegan moved back to the No 6 position for Antrim, Tynan had a tougher job.
Laois raced off to a 0-3 to nil lead after eight minutes but scores by Paddy Richmond, Johnny McIntosh and Karl McKeegan lofted over points to level the argument after 14 minutes.
Three minutes later Antrim wee ahead for the first time. A lob by Jim Connolly was batted down by Laois keeper Patrick Mullaney and Johnny McIntosh ghosted in to flash the ball to the net to leave his side 1-3 to 0-5 ahead.
At half-time it was all square at 1-7 to 0-10 but Laois produced a much better second half performance. The forwards shot on sight and rifled over some excellent long-range points but the game was in the melting pot until the closing minutes.
With 11 minutes left, Laois led by 0-20 to 1-12 but a spirited closing rally by Antrim just failed to pull the game out of the fire.
The Saffrons shot three wides, blowing their chances of success, in the last four minutes after only one from half-time up until then.
SCORERS - Antrim: J McIntosh 1-7 (3f), K McKeegan 0-3 (3 '65s'), J Connolly, M Herron, P Richmond, A Delargy, B Quinn, J Scullion 0-1 each. Laois: J Young 0-8 (6f, 1 '65'), L Tynan 0-3, M Rooney, J Walsh, J Rowney 0-2 each, T Fitzgerald, E Meagher, C Brophy, J Phelan 0-1 each.
Antrim: DD Quinn; M Kettle, K Kelly, A Ó Cairealláin; G Cunningham, J Campbell, C Herron; M Scullion, J Connolly; K McKeegan, M Herron, K Stewart; J McIntosh, P Richmond, A Delargy. Subs: C Cunning for Kelly (1), J Scullion for Ó Cairealláin (10); B Quinn for Delargy (53)
Laois: P Mullaney; J Walsh, P Cuddy, M McEvoy; J Fitzpatrick, P Mahon, S Dwyer; J Walsh, J Phelan; J Rowney, L Tynan, J Young; T Fitzgerald, M Rooney. D Culleton. Subs: C Healy for Mahon (43), E Meagher for Phelan (43), C Brophy for Walsh (58), P Russell for Rowney (67).
Referee: P Greene (Galway).