ANTRIM slumped to their third successive league defeat on Saturday night as Ross King’s 15-point haul helped Laois claim a deserved win in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise.
Both sides were seeking a first win of the campaign and the early exchanges were keenly contested, but the home side opened up a five-point lead before half-time and kicked clear after the break.
Despite two second half goals from Eoghan Campbell and Nigel Elliott, the Saffrons were unable to reel in the hosts.
With just two rounds remaining, it is looking increasingly likely that Antrim will be involved in next month’s Division 1B relegation play-off.
However, manager Dominic ‘Woody’ McKinley insists his side will fight for every point with Limerick coming to Cushendall for this Sunday’s round four clash.
“We started well enough, but Laois soon got on top and, for whatever reason, we just couldn’t get up to the pace of the game,” said McKinley.
“We fumbled the ball a lot, something we have done in the last two games. We seemed a yard or two behind the pace which is something we’ll have to look at.
“We would be very disappointed with how things went.
“We have to try and get something from the last two matches, we can’t be throwing in the towel.”
Laois served notice of their intent from the off as the returning Cha Dywer fired over an early point, but the home side also hit four wides in quick succession.
Antrim made them pay for those misses by hitting four answered points with the in-form Neil McManus landing two from frees and two from play.
The momentum swung back to Laois as a series of frees from King drew them level before Dywer gave them the lead on 17 minutes. Dywer became increasingly influential as the half wore on with goalkeeper Enda Rowland repeatedly targeting the centre half-forward from the restarts.
Neil Foyle, King and Ciaran Comerford helped Laois open up a four-point lead, but Antrim rallied well with scores from Nigel Elliott, Conor Johnston and centre-back Neal McAuley.
Yet, it was Laois who finished the half on top with points from King (two frees), Patrick Purcell and two stunning long-range frees from ’keeper Rowland giving them a 0-13 to 0-8 advantage at the break.
The Saffrons needed a quick start to the half, but it was Laois who were quickest out of the traps and they hit the opening two points of the half via Purcell and King.
Antrim were given a lifeline when Cushendall’s Eoghan Campbell, introduced at half-time for Conor McCann, nipped in around the back of the Laois full-back line to get on the end of a McManus free before clipping the sliotar past Rowland for a well-taken goal.
However, Antrim failed to build on the strike and Laois, aided by some dubious frees awarded by referee Johnny Murphy, moved clear again with King unerring from placed balls.
Nigel Elliott bagged Antrim’s second goal of the night late on, but it proved to be little more than a consolation as Laois secured their first win of the league with a five-point victory.
LAOIS: E Rowland 0-2 (0-2fs); D Hartnett, L Bergin, L Cleere; P Lawlor, M Whelan, E Killeen; P Purcell 0-1, J Ryan 0-2; B Conroy, C Dwyer 0-2, W Dunphy; R King 0-15 (0-13fs, 0-1 ’65), N Foyle 0-1, C Comerford 0-1.
Subs: J Phelan for Killeen (50mins), M Kavanagh 0-1 (0-1 sideline) for Comerford (53mins), S Downey 0-1 for Foyle (58mins), C Taylor for Conroy (61mins), J Kelly for Dunphy (65mins)
ANTRIM: C O’Connell; A Graffin, J Dillon, P Burke; R McCambridge, N McAuley 0-1, D Kearney; J Maskey, C McKinley; N Elliott 1-1, N McManus 0-11 (0-9f), D McKinley; J McNaughton, C McCann, C Johnston 0-1.
Subs: E Campbell 1-1 for McCann (HT), C Carson for McNaughton (44mins), S Rooney for Kearney (46mins), G Walsh for Maskey (47mins), M Connolly 0-1 for McKinley (47mins).
REFEREE: J Murphy (Limerick)