Resilient Saffrons can overcome Laois to reach Tailteann Cup decider

Andy McEntee’s side have what it takes to go one better than last year

Antrim v London Tailteann Cup Quarter Final at Corrigan Park in west Belfast
Antrim manager Andy McEntee. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

Tailteann Cup semi-final

Antrim v Laois (Sunday, Croke Park, 2pm, live on RTÉ2)

THIS time last year, both Antrim and Laois reached the exact same stage of the Tailteann Cup, competing in the last four of the competition, and while both crashed out, they did so under very different circumstances.

Antrim pushed eventual winners Meath all the way but just came up short in the end, losing by two points, while Laois flopped on the big stage and Down strolled through their Leinster opponents to reach the decider.

Fast forward to now and 12 months on, the two teams are back at the same point, only this time one of them will qualify for the final. An appearance in the Tailteann Cup decider would be a massive sign of progress for either camp.

Laois, under 2002 All-Ireland winner and former Armagh full-back Justin McNulty, now in his second stint, have already got the chance to expel their Croke Park demons from last year when they captured the Division Four title at HQ with an impressive win over Leitrim.

While silverware was joyfully collected by the O’Moore county, the biggest result of their season came last weekend when they overturned the odds to defeat Leinster rivals Kildare and knock them out of the competition.

Mark Barry and Evan O’Carroll rattled the back of the net for McNulty’s men as they saw off the Lilywhites with five to spare in the end, while goalkeeper Killian Roche chipped in with four points from dead-ball efforts.

There are a few notable names on the Laois teamsheet, including veteran defender Mark Timmons and scoring threat Paul Kingston, while the experienced Kieran Lillis is a great option off the bench.

For Antrim, their never-say-die attitude has been a key factor in them reaching the final four of the competition for the second year running and they’ve displayed a resilience and character that boss Andy McEntee will be extremely proud of.

They came from seven down midway through the second half to defeat Fermanagh at Brewster Park last weekend, with Cathal Hynds’ major putting the icing on the cake as the Saffrons completed their unlikely comeback.

It’s been a clear thread over the past number of weeks as Antrim came from behind to draw with Sligo, another semi-final participant, in the group stages before beating London and Fermanagh with the same formula.

Antrim also have a goalkeeper that is confident standing over a free kick and Michael Byrne has been one of the stand-out performers of the entire Tailteann Cup. He also kept clean sheets against Sligo and Fermanagh.

The return to fitness of Ruairi McCann (Aghagallon) has been a major boost and he netted twice against London, while Ryan McQuillan and Patrick McBride have been regularly getting on the scoresheet.

Laois will no doubt be sticky opposition, but Antrim are performing like men on a mission and they’ll be keen to right the wrongs of last year’s semi-final and make sure they don’t leave Croke Park disappointed this time around.