Portlaoise are on course for their sixth Laois senior football title in succession as after a jittery start they came from behind to comfortably defeat great rivals Stradbally in the quarter final of the Sparrow Insurance Championship with a far from convincing display at O’Moore Park on Friday night.
Laois Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final
With 12 minutes played in this eagerly awaited clash the shock of the championship looked on the cards as Stradbally led by a 1-4 to 0-0 having totally dominated that opening period and with Colm Kelly in inspirational form made the five in a row champions look very ordinary.
The challengers however only flattered to deceive as they failed to score again for 33 minutes and then only landed a further two points. Their challenged perished after The Town struck for two goals in as many minutes midway through the opening half.
Portlaoise were level by the 16th minute and then led by a point at half time. In a low scoring encounter they shot three points in the final minutes of the game to bring them to a respectable total in the quarter final of the championship. Portlaoise have stuttered and stammered in their championship games since their massive opening round total against Crettyard but it was their overall class and experience that brought them through this tricky encounter.
The focus in analysing this game however has to be in the collapse of the Stradbally challenge after a terrific start as once Portlaoise hit them for those killer goals, they had no response and struggled to make any impression in attack thereafter. Their only other scores came from Colm Kelly frees, the last of which he landed in the fourth minute of additional time.
Portlaoise had made a number of changes from the previous game with John Delaney starting at full back, Brian Mulligan beside him and Conor Boyle back in his favoured position of left half back.
That made way for Hugh Coghlan to start in the middle of the field and it proved an inspired choice as the Tipperary man turned in a man of the match display that was crucial to his sides winning performance. He was strong on both the high and breaking balls and set up many scoring opportunities
Barry Fitzgerald also made an impressive return to the starting side at full forward with Brian Smith beside him and while Zach Touhy was back on his holidays from Australia and togged and ready to come in, such was his side’s dominance after that shaky start that the management resisted the temptation to bring him on.
It really was a whirlwind start from Stradbally and they had the large crowd buzzing as they took the game to the champions and hit them for five scores on the trot that included a smashing goal.
A long ball from Greg Ramsbottom was brilliantly fielded by Colm Kelly in the second minute and he turned and slotted it over and after Cormac Delaney was fouled he landed the next point from a 14 metre free.
Nine minutes in Cormac Delaney won a long ball and turned Cahir Healy before racing through and planting the ball in the far corner of the net. Within a minute Colm Kelly had landed another quality point from out on the terrace side and followed with another free for a sensational 1-4 to 0-0 lead after 12 minutes.
Bruno McCormack set up Craig Rogers for a fine opening point for The Town as they kept their composure after that early onslaught. Hugh Coghlan then won possession and cut through the Stradbally defence and delivered a perfect pass into the patch of Brian Glynn the wing forward crashed a dipping ball into the far corner of the net from 20m out.
Two minutes later the sides were level when Conor Boyle robbed the ball from a Stradbally defensive clearance soloed through and fed Paul Cahillane who finished to the net with some style.
Minutes later Portlaoise looked certain for a third gaol when Craig Rogers won the ball inside the defence but somehow hooked his shot for goal inches wide. Soon after Barry Fitzgerald hit an excellent score to give his side a 2-2 to 1-4 half time lead.
Cahillane edged his side two points clear after Rogers was fouled on the restart and then six minutes in The Town hit their third and decisive goal. A great effort from Hugh Coghlan was saved but Bruno McCormack was on hand to finish the rebound to the net. Soon after a superb pass from Bruno set up Barry Fitzgerald to give his side a six point lead.
It was the 12th minute of the first half when Colm Kelly put his side 1-4 ahead and it was the 12th minute of the second half when he got his side’s next score but Craig Rogers, with the aid of the upright, covered that one to maintain his side’s advantage.
With three minutes remaining Portlaoise had just five points scored to add to their three goals but substitute Liam McGovern, Adrian Kelly after good play by McGovern and finally Brian Glynn landed quick fire points for a nine point advantage with Colm Kelly adding the last score deep into injury time.
Scorers: Portlaoise; Brian Glynn 1-1, Paul Cahillane 1-1 (1 free), Brian McCormack 1-0, Craig Rogers and Barry Fitzgerald 0-2 each, Adrian Kelly and Liam McGovern 0-1 each. Stradbally; Colm Kelly 0-6 (4 frees), Cormac Delaney 1-0.
Portlaoise: Mick Nolan, Cahir Healy, John Delaney, Brian Mulligan, Paul Cotter, Kieran Lillis, Conor Boyle, Adrian Kelly, Hugh Coghlan, Brian Glynn, Craig Rogers, Brian McCormack, Paul Cahillane, Brian Smith, Barry Fitzgerald. Subs: Liam McGovern for Brian Smith (55 mins), Jack Fennell for Rogers (56 mins), Ricky Maher for Paul Cahillane.
Stradbally: Damien Delaney, Ger Byrne, Paul Begley, Eamon Conlon, Colin Beale, Jamie Kavanagh, Michael Skelly, Darren Maher, Gary Kavanagh, Conor Delaney, John Donohue, Greg Ramsbottom, Padraig Fitzpatrick, Colm Kelly, Cormac Delaney. Subs: Darragh Mulhall for Fitzpatrick (37 mins), Richard Carolan for Ger Byrne (40 mins), Gary Comerford for Ramsbottom (48 mins), Paudge Langton for Maher (52 mins).
Referee: Colm Kelly St. Josephs.