Laois saved by Cuddy move
LAOIS 1-20 ; ANTRIM 2-14 HARRY HOUDINI is alive and well and living in Laois. A dramatic transformation in form and fortunes saw the midlanders rescue a lost cause in the first half to capture the Allianz League Division Two crown in Thurles.
Eight points adrift and floundering after 21 minutes, Pat Delaney's team came surging back to parity within seven minutes of the half-time changeover.
And, after Antrim regained a three-point lead, the Laois riposte was swift. In a 15-minute burst they scored 1-6 without reply to put the game beyond an increasingly dispirited Antrim. A last-minute Liam Richmond strike reduced the deficit to three points, but it had "consolation" written all over it.
Both protagonists have been on a slippery slope in recent years, so this was a rare chance to share centre-stage with the heavy-hitters from Kilkenny and Cork. Laois, with the cup and promotion secured, now turn their thoughts to a must-win championship clash with Meath next weekend.
During the week, Laois boss Delaney had described the loss of suspended full-back Paul Cuddy in almost apocalyptic terms. It was "a nightmare" on an equivalent scale to Offaly being deprived the talismanic Brian Whelahan.
At least he had a gifted deputy for the No 3 jersey in Niall Rigney, the veteran recently coaxed back onto the panel. But in common with the entire Laois back division, Rigney struggled early on against a sprightly northern attack.
On a baize-like surface, Antrim started like Stephen Hendry whereas Laois were playing the role of pool-hall chumps. After 12 minutes, the Ulster side led by 0-6 to 0-2 with five of their forwards already on the scoresheet. Lively wing-forward Liam Watson and Brian McFall in the corner were looking particularly sharp.
By the half's midpoint, the cushion had stretched further (0-9 to 0-4) and five of the Laois forwards had already changed position.
And then, after 21 minutes, came the opening goal. The Laois defence failed to clear their lines after a searching delivery by wing-back Karl McKeegan, and Gregory O'Kane pounced on the loose ball to score.
Eight points adrift, it already looked a lost cause for Laois. But David Cuddy's move towards midfield helped kick-start their revival and his deadball expertise also made inroads.
By half-time the gap was down to four points. Seven minutes later, and that too had evaporated. Antrim came charging back, a brace of points from Aidan Delargy leaving them three clear.
But then Joe Phelan, with his own brace, launched another Laois comeback with points from Cuddy and a Michael Dunphy free edging them ahead.
Virtually straight from the next puckout, Damien Culleton struck a decisive 59th minute goal and with Laois in overdrive substitute Fionán O'Sullivan and Cuddy stretched their lead further.
Rigney's improved performance was reflected in a brilliant block to deny Seán Delargy an Antrim goal. When Richmond finally found the range, it was already too late.
MAN OF THE MATCH David Cuddy
SCORERS - Laois: D Cuddy 0-8 (5f, 1 '65'), M Dunphy 0-4 (3f), J Phelan 0-3, D Culleton 1-0, D Conroy, J O'Shea, D Rooney, F Keenan, F O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Antrim: G O'Kane 1-2, A Delargy 0-3 (1f), B McFall 0-3 (1f), L Richmond 1-0, L Watson 0-2, C Herron 0-1 ('65'), J Connolly, C McCambridge, A Mort 0-1 each.
LAOIS J Lyons; PJ Peacock, N Rigney, L Mahon; P Mahon, P Drennan, M McEvoy; D Conroy, P Brady; B Ferns, J O'Shea, D Rooney; D Culleton, D Cuddy, J Phelan. Subs: M Dunphy for for Ferns (27), F Keenan for Conroy, F O'Sullivan for O'Shea (both half-time), R Delaney for Mahon (48).
ANTRIM D Quinn; M Kettle, K Kelly, E McCloskey; K McKeegan, R Donnelly, C Herron; C Cunning, J Connolly; A Delargy, L Richmond, L Watson; C McCambridge, G O'Kane, B McFall. Subs: A Mort for McCambridge (inj 35), M McCambridge for McCloskey (52), S Delargy for O'Kane (54), J Boyle for A Delargy (67).
REF S Roche (Tipperary).