Kelly happy to take point from trip to Laois as Murray heroics rescue Antrim
Allianz Football League Division Three: Laois 1-8 Antrim 1-8
IT may have ruined a hometown fairy tale, but Ryan Murray's equalising point with the last kick of the game in Portlaoise on Saturday night has kept Antrim in the hunt for promotion from Division Three of the Allianz Football League, an outcome that was made all the more desirable by the decision of GAA Congress to bring in the Tailteann Cup and adopt the new 'green' championship proposals earlier that day.
Saturday night marked the League debut for Laois goalkeeper Matthew Byron, the son of 2003 Allstar goalkeeper Fergal Byron, and when he stood over a free kick in the 72nd minute of the game, with the scores tied, the tension in the crowd was palpable.
From 55 metres out, the young custodian stroked the ball over the bar, drawing the biggest shout of the night, and given that Antrim had scored just two points in 55 minutes leading up to that score, the odds of the Saffrons converting one final possession into a score seemed slim.
Even when Rúairí McCann stood over a free on the left hand touchline, very close to where he struck two previous efforts and dropped them short into the swirling breeze, Laois would surely have fancied their chances of holding on. Perhaps they took too long to savour that thought, as Ryan Murray made a darting run into space that went untracked, and when McCann chipped the ball into his path, the Lámh Dearg man showed nerves of steel to split the posts and level the contest.
“We're happy with the point at the end of it, because we had to dig in big time at the end of the second half. To be fair to the lads they did dig in, so we'll take a point, considering the way the game was going” was the summary of Antrim selector Seán Kelly at the end of the game.
Kelly was speaking because manager Enda McGinley had been red-carded by referee Niall McKenna for the manner of his disagreement with a decision. It was a game in which contentious decisions and one brief flurry or stylish attacking football from Antrim – buried in an otherwise error-heavy performance – were the main talking points.
That flurry came early, when Odhrán Eastwood's goal and a string of outstanding wind-assisted points moved the Saffrons 1-5 to 0-2 clear after 21 minutes.
Then Evan O'Carroll punched in a goal that could easily have been ruled out for square ball, Laois won some frees, and Antrim full-back Ricky Johnston was black carded before half-time.
1-6 to 1-4 at half-time became 1-6 each after 43 minutes, and then 1-7 each after 70 minutes. No more needs to be said about that period of play, other than one point each was about right, given the amount of errors that perforated the play of both teams.
It was no surprise then that the home crowd felt that when Byron's kick sailed over, they had done enough.
“We would be disappointed with some of our play that didn't create the chances that we could have done, but the over-riding theme for us was the fight and determination the lads showed in the second half” said Kelly.
“We've come down, we've taken a point, it's better than nothing. We'll move on to the next day and try again, and that's the way we take all our games. We don't see ourselves as pushing for promotion, we're pushing to perform in every game we can."
Laois: M Byron (0-1, 0-1 free); T Collins, J Kelly, A Mohan; S O'Flynn, J O'Loughlin, G Dillon; K Lillis, J Finn; C Murphy, E Lowry (0-1), P O'Sullivan; M Barry (0-2, 0-1 free), E O'Carroll (1-0), G Walsh (0-4, 0-4 frees).
Subs: B Byrne for Murphy (60), R Munnelly for Dillon (64), A Farrell for Finn (65).
Yellow cards: Mohan (34), Lowry (35+3), Dillon (40).
Antrim: O Kerr; E McCabe, R Johnston, P Healy; P McAleer (0-1), J Laverty, M Jordan; M McCann (0-1) K Small; R Murray (0-2), J Gribbon (0-1), R McCann (0-2); T McCann, O Eastwood (1-1), C Murray.
Subs: M Johnston for R Murray (12, temp), M Johnston for Gribbon (h-t), D McAleese for R Johnston (43), P McCormick for T McCann (50), P McBride for Eastwood (50), E Walsh for McBride (60).
Yellow cards: Small (30), McAleer (35+3).
Black card: R Johnston (35+1)
Referee: N McKenna (Monaghan).