When Portlaoise joint-manager Mick Lillis finally got back to the sanctuary of the tunnel in O’Moore Park, he looked to be a mixture of both delight and relief after watching his side come through a gripping affair with Emmett Óg of Killoe.
As he reflected on one of the most entertaining games at Portlaoise’s county grounds in some time, Lillis paid tribute to both teams for the effort they put into the game. “Conditions were very tough out there, it was a credit to both teams, they emptied the tank, they did everything you would expect any team to do. We’re delighted to come out the right end of the result. I thought the referee had a very tough job, I wouldn’t have had a bad word to say about him if we’d lost that game, because I thought in the circumstances he did a great job. We’re just delighted to be in a Leinster final.”
There was high drama from start to finish, with the conditions making the game something of a lottery, as the ball was like a bar of soap and players struggled to hold onto it at the best of times. Both Portlaoise’s goal and Emmett Óg’s first goal came from handling errors owing to the conditions, and Lillis admitted it was the team who kept those slip ups to the minimum that would win in the end. “It was the team that was going to make the fewest mistakes were going to win today, and we did that. But you saw the game, it could have gone either way. It was up and down the field, we went behind twice and came back to lead the game, and with the ball going down into our goal area in the last few minutes, anything could have happened.”
Experience counted for a lot in the end, with Brian McCormack coming back out the field for Portlaoise when things got dicey in the closing minutes, and he got special mention from Lillis afterwards. “Bruno is a great player, he has the ability to do the right thing at the right time, he has the experience but he has the ability as well, he has a good head and a good football brain. But I would give credit to all the lads, everybody that played, it was tough conditions and thanks be to God we came out at the end of it.”
It is Ballymun up next now for Portlaoise, who will be attempting to replicate their victory over the same opposition in 1982, when they last met in a Leinster final.
Lillis is fully aware of the class at their disposal, and he is expecting a huge challenge to come from the Dublin champions. “Ballymun are a class outfit, we were up at the Dublin county final, not counting our chickens or anything like that, but they were class on the day. They beat a very very good Kilmacud team, they beat a very good Sarsfields team by six points. To win by six points in these conditions is a big ask, and it’s asign of how good they are. We have a mountain to climb now, but we’re at the foot of it and we’ll give it a go.”