Portlaoise booked their place in the quarter final with an impressive display against a spirited Castletown-Slieve Bloom side. Portlaoise’s good patches were very impressive but they will be worried about the way they drifted out of the game before half time and early in the second half.
Portlaoise were first out of the blocks with a point from Kevin Whelan after a pass from Derek Delaney. Seconds later they had a second from a Noel Costello free after a foul on Cahir Healy. After six minutes, they were three in front when Eoin Costello scored from the left wing after Tony Byrne had done the hard work. They stretched the lead further when the lively Cian Taylor got out in front of Enda Conroy, skipped past him and offloaded to Tommy Fitzgerald who tapped the ball over.
Each of the shots had been relatively simple because Portlaoise were easily able to create space as Castletown-Slieve Bloom struggled to get to grips with the game. David Cuddy opened his side’s account with a free after ten minutes but Portlaoise added two through Eoin Costello and Taylor.
Paul Cuddy got Castletown-Slieve Bloom’s second after a poor Portlaoise puck out but Portlaoise were five in front once more after Derek Delaney set up Keith Murphy. Portlaoise had been completely dominant but a goal against the run of play put a different complexion on proceedings.
Ben Conroy collected the ball on the left wing before passing to Barry McKelvey. McKelvey had some space as his man, Eoin Browne, had gone to close down Conroy. As McKelvey found Brian Mulligan closing down on him, he was able to pick out Mulligan’s man, James Hooban in space. Hooban used his turn of pace to sprint towards goal with Browne and Mulligan in hot pursuit. Cahir Healy shut down the space but Hooban had the presence of mind to pick out McKelvey who had got himself into a great position unmarked in front of goal and he made no mistake with the finish.
The goal breathed new life into Castletown-Slieve Bloom and what had looked like being a one sided contest roared into life as a competitive affair. Castletown/Slieve Bloom changed their play around to great effect with Paul Cuddy moving to centre forward and Brendan Reddin going to midfield. Reddin won the puck out following the goal and sent it back over to level the game. Kevin Whelan edged Portlaoise back in front but Castletown-Slieve Bloom had the momentum.
McKelvey levelled the game once again as James Hooban started to look more and more dangerous. Mulligan had got the upper hand early in the game but Hooban was on form now. Noel Costello sent two frees wide which reflected his side’s general play at the time. Castletown-Slieve Bloom took the lead for the first time in the 30th minute with a point from Paul Cuddy and seconds later they doubled their advantage with a fine move, involving Ben Conroy, Hooban and Paul Cuddy, calmly finished by David Cuddy.
A free from Costello left Portlaoise behind by a solitary point but given the pattern of play, they must have been worried. The start of the second half did nothing to ease their fears as Conroy shot over two frees, both won by Hooban, to go three in front.
Castletown-Slieve Bloom couldn’t keep up their good form, however, as Portlaoise gradually worked their way back into it. Eoin Costello scored two points to bring his tally to a very useful four despite contributing little otherwise. Cian Taylor’s stick work was too much for Enda Conroy who fouled him, allowing Noel Costello to level the game and Kevin Whelan put them back in front after an assist from Fitzgerald. The move of the game came 47 minutes in as Noel Costello collected the ball underneath the stand. A quick pass to Tommy Fitzgerald was quickly moved along to Cian Taylor who shot powerfully past Ger Cuddy for a fine goal. A Costello 65 a minute later meant Portlaoise had scored 1-5 unanswered and led by five.
Points from Hooban and Fionán Cuddy brought the gap back to three but Castletown-Slieve Bloom didn’t look like getting the necessary control of the game to close that gap. Their first goal had been against the run of play and a second didn’t seem likely. Joe Phelan and Ben Conroy swapped points as full time beckoned. Castletown-Slieve Bloom went in search of goals but some immense defending from Cahir Healy, particularly in the form of high catches, stopped them in their tracks. He was fouled at the beginning of stoppage time and Noel Costello came back to put four points between the sides again.
David Cuddy was hauled down 30 metres from goal but with four points between the sides he opted for a point which would be the last score of the game.
SCORERS - Portlaoise: Noel Costelloe 0-5 (four frees, one 65), Eoin Costello 0-4, Cian Taylor 1-1, Kevin Whelan 0-3, Tommy Fitzgerald, Keith Murphy, Joe Phelan 0-1 each; Castletown-Slieve Bloom: Barry McKelvey 1-1, David Cuddy (two frees), Ben Conroy (two frees, one 65) 0-3 each, Brendan Reddin, Paul Cuddy 0-2 each, Fionán Cuddy, James Hooban 0-1 each
PORTLAOISE: Michael Bowe; Conor Dunne, Eoin Browne, Brian Mulligan; Joe Phelan, Cahir Healy, Darragh Duggan; Keith Murphy, Eoin Costello; Tony Byrne, Tommy Fitzgerald, Kevin Whelan; Cian Taylor, Derek Delaney, Noel Costello. Subs: Brian McCormack for Tony Byrne (46 mins)
CASTLETOWN-SLIEVE BLOOM: Ger Cuddy; Tom Phelan, Gearóid Gaughan, Enda Conroy; John Gaughan, Declan Keenan, Cyril Cuddy; Paul Cuddy, Fionán Cuddy; David Cuddy, Brendan Reddin, Barry McKelvey; Kevin Carroll, Ben Conroy, James Hooban.