/ GAA

Antrim 1-23 Laois 1-13

Updated: Saturday, 07 Jul 2007 18:53

Karl McKeegan scored Antrim's goal today
Karl McKeegan scored Antrim's goal today

Antrim kept their chances of making the All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals alive as they gained a deserved 1-23 to 1-13 qualifier win at Casement Park today.

The Ulster champions had too much in the tank for a brave Laois side who had midfielder Shane Dollard sent-off in the 37th-minute for striking Neil McManus.

The midlanders battled bravely with the talismanic James Young tallying up 0-09 (7f). They took the lead thanks to John Brophy's second minute goal but Antrim steadied themselves with influential midfielder Karl McKeegan netting in the 21st minute.

The Saffrons led 1-12 to 1-07 at half-time and used their numerical advantage to see out their first win of this year's qualifier series.

Both sides were forced into team changes before the throw-in with teenager Shane McNaughton being replaced at corner-forward by Karl Stewart and Antrim were also forced to bring in Colm Duffin for Johnny McIntosh at full-forward.

Laois' two late switches were both in defence with John Walsh and James Walsh coming in at right corner-back and right half-back for the injured Ciaran Fitzpatrick and Joe Phelan.

The O'Moore men, who gave Galway quite a test last weekend, began the better with Brophy scoring 1-01 within two minutes of the start.

The Harps clubman batted home his goal after Antrim goalkeeper Ryan McGarry had done well to stop a stinging shot from Tommy Fitzgerald.

The experienced Michael Kettle had to be called into the fray early on to stop the threat that full-forward Fitzgerald was posing, and Antrim gradually got to grips with matters.

Paddy McGill floated over three early scores and Paul Shields levelled the tie, 14 minutes in, at 0-06 to 1-03. The sides shared out the next four points with Young and JJ McHugh firing over for Laois and Karl Stewart and Ciaran Herron both scoring points for Antrim.

Tellingly, from the 20th minute to the 33rd minute, Antrim put on the afterburners as they shot 1-05 without reply to move into a 1-12 to 1-05 lead.

McKeegan darted forward to crack home a much-needed goal and points from Herron, McKeegan, Shields and Michael McCambridge added some steel to Antrim's total.

Young halted Antrim's run of scores by landing two late frees and despite that purple patch, the northerners' advantage at the break was only five points.

Dollard's off-the-ball challenge on McManus left Laois short-handed for the majority of the second half and credit to Damien Fox's underdogs, they continued to compete for every ball and were still only five points in arrears - 1-18 to 1-13 - by the 69th-minute.

Young was a central figure as Laois hung onto the hosts' coat tails. However, a late push saw Antrim roar clear with McManus, McKeegan, substitute McIntosh, McGill and Michael Herron all angling over points.

The win, Antrim's first success against the midlanders in three championship meetings, means the Saffrons will travel to Galway next Saturday with a chance of qualifying for the last eight.

ANTRIM: R McGarry; A Graffin, K Kelly (0-01), Sean Delargy; M McCambridge (0-01), J Campbell, Ciaran Herron (0-03); K McKeegan (1-03, 2f), B Herron; P McGill (0-05, 2f), N McManus (0-02), M Herron (0-02); K Stewart (0-02), C Duffin, P Shields (0-02).

Subs used: M Kettle for Kelly, J McIntosh (0-02) for Duffin.

LAOIS: P Mullaney; John Walsh, C Healy, C Dunne; James Walsh, M Whelan (0-01), M McEvoy; J Fitzpatrick, S Dollard; J Brophy (1-01), J Young (0-09, 7f), JJ McHugh (0-01); T Fitzgerald (0-01), W Hyland, P Russell.

Subs used: B Fitzgerald for Hyland, E Jackman for McHugh, M Birmingham for Russell, B McEvoy for Fitzpatrick.

Referee: Fergus Smith (Meath)