As dogfights go, this was right up there. Portlaoise were put through their toughest test of the year on Sunday afternoon, but came through it in the end thanks to a mix of experience and endurance in the final fifteen minutes.
Leinster Club SFC semi-final
Emmet Og 2-5
Emmett Óg of Killoe came into the game cresting a wave of expectation, as they came through a tough Longford championship and gave their supporters cause for hope in Leinster. Those supporters came out in force on Sunday too, complete with banners draping over the perimeter fence on the terrace side of the field, and a choir of sorts at the back of the stand.
They added some great noise and colour off the field, while on the field, their footballers showed they had substance to back up the chants of their followers. They defended superbly in spells, bunching up when they needed to and dispossessing Portlaoise attackers on numerous occasions.
The problem they found that was, when Portlaoise weren’t gifting them goals, they defended superbly too. Mistakes from Brian Mulligan and Cahir Healy allowed Killoe in for their two goals, but aside from that Portlaoise kept the Longford side to a limited number of chances.
Killoe’s second goal, which came from a misplaced Cahir Healy pass, could have broken Portlaoise, but they steeled themselves after that score and did what they needed to do. After Simon Kiernan’s goal, Portlaoise outscored Killoe by 0-5 to 0-1 in the final quarter of the game to claim a place in the Leinster final.
Those closing stages were some of the best of the game too, as both teams looked to be out on their feet in the final quarter, as the underfoot conditions sapped their energy throughout the game. Neither gave in to each other, or the elements, and it made for a great game.
Portlaoise now play Ballymun Kickhams, who came through the other semi-final as expected with a six point win over Sarsfields of Kildare.
Portlaoise had done most of the early running, as they dominated possession but found it difficult to turn it into scores. An early wide from Conor Boyle and free caught on the crossbar from Barry Fitzgerald frustrated the home side, before the finally broke the deadlock when Paul Cahillane slotted over a free.
Cahillane then turned provider, as he was fouled on the left wing and Barry Fitzgerald was left with a relatively simple effort to push Portlaoise two ahead. Killoe were struggling to get beyond their own half-forward line, as Portlaoise’s tenacious defending halted them in their tracks time and again.
While Portlaoise could take heart from their performance in that regard, they would have been worried by their lack of killer touch at the other end. Their natural game is to run the ball out from defence, and while it worked up to a point, time and again they ran into trouble and wasted promising attacks.
Two goal chances went begging when Brian Glynn and Kevin Fitzpatrick couldn’t put the finishing touches to good moves, but Glynn eventually got their third point in the seventeenth minute. Their three point lead lasted all of a minute, when a Brian Mulligan fumble let Killoe break forward and Mark Hughes set up Denis McGoldrick for a goal.
The Portlaoise response was impressive, as they rattled off three points in as many minutes, from Conor Boyle, Brian McCormack and Adrian Kelly to take control of the game again. Killoe had one last push left in them though, and a brace of points from Ronan McGoldrick had them within one at half time, 0-6 to 1-2.
Their confidence rising after a strong end to the first period, Killoe came out strongly at the start of the second half as Mark Hughes finished off a forward burst from Michael Quinn to level the game. Sean McCormack then put Killoe ahead for the first time when he pointed a free soon after, but Portlaoise’s ability to get scores when they needed was shown in full effect when they set Brian Smith up for their only goal.
The pace of the game started to pick up now, and Killoe regained the lead in fortuitous fashion when Cahir Healy’s misplaced pass from a line ball allowed Mark Hughes to set Simon Kiernan up for a simple goal, but that was as good as it got for the Longford men.
Michael Nolan made a fantastic point blank save from Hughes a minute later, and then Healy atoned for his mistake by winning a free for Barry Fitzgerald to slot over. He then made a storming run up the left wing which ended with him slotting a superb effort over the bar, as Portlaoise timed their late run to perfection to claim an extremely hard-fought three point win.
An even bigger challenge still awaits, however.
SCORERS – Portlaoise: Barry Fitzgerald 0-3 (frees), Brian Smith 1-0, Adrian Kelly, Brian McCormack 0-2 each, Cahir Healy, Conor Boyle, Brian Glynn, Paul Cahillane (f) 0-1 each; Killoe: Simon Kiernan, Denis McGoldrick 1-0 each, Ronan McGoldrick 0-2, Daniel Mimnagh, Mark Hughes, Sean McCormack (f) 0-1 each
PORTLAOISE: Michael Nolan; Cahir Healy, Brian Mulligan, Tommy Fitzgerald; Kevin Fitzpatrick, Kieran Lillis, Craig Rogers; Conor Boyle, Adrian Kelly; Hugh Coghlan, Barry Fitzgerald, Brian Glynn; Paul Cahillane, Brian McCormack, Brian Smith. Subs: Stuart Nerney for Boyle (56 mins)
KILLOE: Cillian Burns; Darragh Bennett, Padraig McCormack, Daniel Keogh; Shane Dowd, Joe McCormack, Michael Quinn; Paddy Thompson, Simon Kiernan; Eugene Clark, Ronan McGoldrick, Daniel Mimnagh; Denis McGoldrick, Mark Hughes, Sean McCormack. Subs: Ronan Keogh for Thompson (55 mins), Paddy Hughes for D McGoldrick (56 mins)
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)