Red-hot Shiels turns screw as Antrim edge out battling Laois
Antrim 0-22 Laois 0-20 Leinster SHC Round-Robin
A superb second-half comeback from Antrim saw them edge past Laois in a thrilling game in O'Moore Park.
Trailing by four points at half- time, Antrim rattled off six unanswered points at the start of the second half to turn the game on its head. A shell-shocked Laois side never really recovered.
They now face Galway in the Leinster SHC proper, also at O'Moore Park next weekend, while Antrim's reward for topping the group is a date with Wexford. There was a disappointing lack of an edge to the game in the early stages as Laois opened the scoring with a point from Willie Hyland.
Antrim wouldn't trouble the umpires until the sixth minute, with Paul Shiels floating over a long-range free. The spark the game required to make it feel like a championship clash never arrived.
Laois regained the lead courtesy of a well-worked point from a puck- out, with Hyland again providing the finishing touch, and Stephen Maher edged them two clear moments later with a free.
Again it was left to Shiels to keep Antrim in touch, with frees their only real chance of scoring as Laois' defence held firm against whatever Kevin Ryan's men threw at them.
Laois then strung together the first real scoring run of the game to open up a decent lead, starting with a wonderful point from the left wing by Stephen Maher.
Hyland, who was proving a real handful for Neil McManus, added two more as Laois went four clear, and they would maintain that advantage for the rest of the half, heading to the dressing-room 0-12 to 0-8 in the lead.
The second half was a different story as Antrim came roaring out of the blocks and put Laois under increasing pressure. Ciaran Clarke and Shiels pointed within 50 seconds of the restart and things only got better for them from there.
Shiels added a free and Conor McCann found the target as Antrim put together a six-point scoring run to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Laois found the pressure almost unbearable as they struggled to do the simple things; passes went astray and possession was turned over with alarming ease as a rising Saffron tide swept all before them.
They had built up a four-point lead with eight minutes to go when Laois won a penalty, their only goal chance of the second half. ''Keeper Eoin Reilly came up to take it, but his thunderous shot was saved on the line and Antrim survived.
Laois threw everything at Antrim late on, but Conor McCann's point put the seal on the win.
SCORERS – Antrim: P Shiels 0-9 (8fs), C McCann, PJ O'Connell 0-3 each, A Graffan 0-2, E Campbell, C Carson, C Clarke, Conor Johnson, S McAfee 0-1 each. Laois: S Maher 0-9 (5fs), W Hyland 0-5, R King 0-2, J Campion, P Whelan, N Foyle, T Fitzgerald 0-1 each.
ANTRIM – C O'Connell 6; A Graffin 7, C McKinley 7, Ciaran Johnson 6; N McManus 7, N McAuley 7, O McFadden 6; E Campbell 6, S McCrory 5; C McCann 7, P Shiels 8, C Carson 7; C Clarke 6, Conor Johnson 6, PJ O'Connell 7. Subs: B McFall 6 for McCrory (23), S McToal 6 for Ciaran Johnson (ht), D Hammill 7 for McFadden (39), S McAfee 7 for Clarke (55), M Donnelly for Conor Johnson (67).
LAOIS – E Reilly 7; JA Delaney 6, B Campion 6, B Stapleton 7; J Fitzpatrick 6, M Whelan 6, T Delaney 5; D Palmer 6, P Whelan 6; C Dwyer 6, J Purcell 5, W Hyland 7; S Maher 7, T Fitzgerald 6, N Foyle 6. Subs: R King 7 for Purcell (45), D Maher 6 for JA Delaney (45), J Campion 7 for Palmer (48), J Brophy 6 for P Whelan (63).
REF – F Horgan (Tipperary).