McNaughton conjures late Antrim magic in pulsating great escape
Antrim 2-18 Laois 2-16
Antrim's hurlers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at Casement Park yesterday, overturning a 10-point second-half deficit to edge ahead of Laois in injury-time and deny Teddy McCarthy's side their first points of the season.
Laois were in command at the break and led by 1-9 to 0-4 after Chris Murray got the visitors off to the perfect start with a goal on 11 minutes.
All Antrim's first-half points came from Shane McNaughton, while Laois kept the scoreboard ticking over with frees from Willie Hyland and a brace each from David O'Mahoney and Murray.
Even with the wind advantage in the second half, Antrim took a while to get themselves going and two Hyland points after the restart had Laois 1-11 to 0-4 to the good.
The Saffrons finally clicked into gear and strung five unanswered points together, the pick of which came from influential substitute Barry McFall.
Hyland stopped the rot for Laois but the gap was cut to just two points on 54 minutes when Conor Carson lashed the sliotar to the net after getting on the end of a long, searching ball in from McFall.
Laois were back in control when Brendan Reddin flicked home the rebound from Hyland's saved penalty, but when McNaughton found the net on 61 minutes, Antrim trailed by the minimum, 2-13 to 2-12.
A Neil McManus point had the sides level for the first time and the combatants were to find themselves on level terms a further three times in the closing stages of a pulsating game.
However, two late points from McNaughton and Paul Shiels sealed the victory for Antrim.
Man of the Match: S McNaughton (Antrim)
Scorers -- Antrim: S McNaughton 1-8 (4f), N McManus 0-4, C Carson 1-0, P Shiels 0-2, C Donnelly (f), S McCrory, PJ O'Connell, B McFall 0-1 each. Laois: W Hyland 0-9 (6f), C Murray 1-2, B Reddin 1-0, D O'Mahoney 0-2, W Dunphy, S Bourke, A Collier 0-1 each.
Antrim -- S McToal 7; A Graffin 6, C Donnelly 8, J Kerr 7; N McAuley6, N McManus 7, M Gettins 8; K Stewart 6, P Shiels 8; S McCrory 7, M Herron 7, D Hamill 6; PJ O'Connell 6, C Carson 6, S McNaughton 9. Subs: B McFall 9 for Hamill, D Lynch 7 for O'Connell.
Laois -- E Reilly 8; P Mullaney 6, D Maher 8, C Coonan 6; C Dunne 7, M Whelan 7, M McEvoy 6; J Fitzpatrick 7, J Walsh 7; D O'Mahoney 8, W Hyland 9, D Peacock 6; C Murray 8, W Dunphy 7, S Bourke 7. Subs: B Reddin 7 for Peacock, G Burke 6 for Mullaney, A Collier 7 for Dunphy, N Unwin 6 for Burke.
Ref -- J McGrath (Westmeath).