The general consensus amongst the Laois football faithful before Saturday night had been that the senior championship lacked any real drama or excitement this year.
All that was turned on its head in O’Moore Park on Saturday night, however, when Mark Timmons crashed the ball to the back of the Portlaois net with the last kick of the game, snatching victory from Portlaoise and leaving the county champions to taste championship defeat for the first time in six years.
Portlaoise must now lift themselves for a Round 3 game in two weeks time, while Graiguecullen will no doubt have a spring in their step when they return to training this week.
Brian McCormack had registered Portlaoise’s the first score in the opening minute, and added a second in the ninth minute as Portlaoise seemed to have shaken off the dust from their lack lustre first round win over The Heath.
Craig Rogers added another three minutes later following good work from Brian Glynn, and he was on hand to raise the game’s first green flag in the 20th minute. Neat interplay between McCormack and Adrian Kelly set Rogers up, and he made no mistake from eight yards.
Ian Fleming registered Graigue’s first score from a ‘45 with ten minutes of the first half remaining. An excellent long range score from Stuart Nerney re-established Portlaois eight point lead.
Graigue seemed to be slowly waking from their slumber as the first period drew to a close, with Ambrose Doran flashing over an excellent thirty yard effort from under the stand.
Portlaoise, however, hit straight back with their second goal. Brian Glynn fisted across the square to find veteran Kevin Fitzpatrick, who expertly palmed the ball to the net. A free from Mark Doogue on the stroke of half time saw the score board read 2-6 to 0-3 in favour of the champions heading to the break.
The most optimistic of supporters could not have predicted what was to unfold in the second half. Within three minutes of the restart Portlaoise were raising their third green flag.
Paul Cahillane found Rogers who picked out the overlapping Glynn who dispatched excellently from 15 yards out.
Graigue were quick to respond to this latest setback, with Ian Fleming knocking over a free a minute later, andthis was followed by an excellent forty yard effort from centre back Chris Hurley.
Mark Timmons’ move to midfield was visibly paying dividends at this stage and he was central to Graigue’s first goal with 15 minutes left. A long range free was sent into the full forward line by Fleming, and Lee Murphy did enough to distract Micky Nolan who misjudged the flight of the ball, and ended up in the net.
Graiguecullen hit four unanswered points in as many minutes as the excitmenet levels were ratcheted up as the gamed entered its final minutes,
Fleming, Doran, Mark Doogue and sub James Doogue all on target to narrow the gap to three.
Doran added another free to leave just a two point gap as the game entered injury time. Portlaoise packed the defence in an attempt to see things out, but Timmons had other ideas.
Chris Hurley drove a long ball deep into Graig’s forward line, Timmons was first to react, and he weaved his way through the Portlaoise defence, and then somehow managed to get the space to unleash a low left-footed pile driver which skidded underneath Nolan and into the corner of the net with literally the last kick of the game.
SCORERS - Portlaoise: Craig Rogers 1-1, Brian McCormack 0-3, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Brian Glynn 1-0 each, Stuart Nerney, Micky Nolan (’45) 0-1 each; Graiguecullen: Ian Fleming 1-3 (0-2 free, 0-1’45), Mark Timmons 1-0, Mark Doogue 0-3 (0-3 frees), Ambrose Doran 0-2 , Chris Hurley, James Doogue 0-1 each.
PORTLAOISE: Michael Nolan; David Seale, Paul Cotter, Brian Mulligan; Eoin Whelan, Kieran Lillis, Brian Smith; Shane McManus, Stuart Nerney; Brian McCormack, Adrian Kelly, Brian Glynn; Paul Cahillane, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Craig Rodgers. Subs: Gareth Dillion for C Rodgers (36 mins), Eoghan Feane for D Seale (44 mins), Liam McGovern for B Mulligan (46 mins), Conor Boyle for L McGovern (59 mins)
GRAIGUECULLEN: Patrick Scully;Bobby Doyle, Mark Timmons, Terry Haughney; Danny O’Reilly, Chris Hurley, Ian Fleming; Brian Maguire, Stephen Alsybury; Danny Alsybury, Lee Murphy, Shane O’Neill; Ambrose Doran, Jamie Moran, Mark Doogue. Subs: Lee Timmons for D Alsybury (36 mins), James Doogue for J Moran (41 mins)