Born na Mona O’Connor Park played host to the Division 4 final of the Jerome O’Leary Cup on Saturday evening.
Laois had defeated Armagh in the semi finals, and another Ulster outfit in Antrim stood in their way of a final win in Tullamore.
Laois were playing the first half into the evening sun, Paudie McGilligan scored an impressive 75 early on, and a minute later, an error from Laois keeper David Sheeran after an innocuous long ball allowed the Ulstermen to register an early goal to lead 1-2 to 0-1.
Conor Walsh responded for Laois with a goal after a marauding run from midfield after 15 minutes, to crucially bridge the ever-increasing gap, at 1-4 to 1-1. They closed it further to go level, but McGilligan’s third point reestablished a 1-5 to 1-4 lead.
Walsh almost repeated the goalscoring feat with five minutes left in the half, but keeper Bailey Graham was equal to it this time around.
Good Laois defending from the likes of Niall Coss kept Antrim from adding to the scoreboard to any great extent, and a Niall Bennett for the O’Moore County point gave his side the lead at 1-5 to 1-6 just before the break.
Bennett was the first to score after the restart six minutes into it, putting home a free, as did Walsh for their their first two point lead. After a goalscoring opportunity for Antrim at the other end, the latter got his second goal minutes later, slotting it into the net after an initial miss closer in from Darragh McEvoy.
Laois’ four point lead was extended by Walsh once again, who sent in a goal to the far corner after running in from the left wing, and now Antrim only had 15 minutes to overhaul a six point deficit.
A long-range free from Kevin Mulhall somehow went into the net for Laois, with keeper Graham seemingly misjudging the flight of the sliotar which went under the bar. The now nine point lead seemed to have effectively killed off the game as a contest with just ten minutes to go.
However, Antrim claimed their first late goal after a great initial save from Sheeran, who argued that the ball had gone out of play before the rebound strike. Just before the end of regulation time, Joe McToal fired Antrim’s third goal into the far corner just from the right, with the ball beating multiple backs and the man between the sticks.
Laois kept their cool and added a few more points in response though to run out 4-12 to 3-10 winners despite the late scare. Antrim’s rally was a fantastic display of heart of attacking skill, but they ultimately left it too late to claw back the deficit.
2018 is the third year of the successful Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge. The five divisional finals will take place on Saturday, June 30th at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, Tullamore. The cups have been dedicated to the memory of Michael Hogan (24), John William Scott (14), William Robinson (11), Jerome O’Leary (10) and Michael Feery (40) – five of the victims from the fourteen people shot and killed on Bloody Sunday at Croke Park on November 21st, 1920.
The Bank of Ireland Celtic Challenge represents a new departure in Hurling with the inclusion of teams from all 32 Counties as well as unique respect initiatives including a ‘Pre-Match Talk’ by the referee and the ‘Best and Fairest Award’ that will see referees after every match choose one player from each team selected on the basis of their skill level as well as the respect they showed to the playing rules, match officials and their fellow players.