Portlaoise’s quest for an eighth Laois SFC title in a row remains on course after another test of their credentials against O’Dempsey’s on Sunday in O’Moore Park.
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The reigning champions have found the going a good bit tougher this year than they have in the past, and they were made to battle all the way in this game as well.
O’Dempsey’s lead by three points at half time, 1-4 to 0-4, and were good value for the lead. Míchael Finlay’s goal in the 30th minute was just reward for an industrious performance from O’Demspey’s, who had blunted the majority of Portlaoise’s attacking threats.
Robbie Kehoe turned in an excellent display on Zach Tuohy, while Peter O’Leary was excellent in snuffing out the threat of Brian McCormack, holding the Portlaoise man to just one point.
O’Demspey’s will probably feel it was a game there for them to win, and they certainly could have caused an upset. Unfortunately for them, they seemed to lack urgency in the second half when Portlaoise were there for the taking. They were slow to move the ball out of defence, passing sideways and backwards with a little too much regularity.
It was cruel fate on them to see game swing on a bizarre goal. Adrian Kelly’s long ball towards goal bounced up and hit the crossbar, catching Padraig Bannon out. Brian McCormack followed up, but his fisted effort hit the crossbar as well, with Craig Rogers eventually bundling it over the line. That score sparked a run of 1-4 without reply in the last ten minutes, as Portlaoise eventually got themselves over the line and into another final.
They may have finished strongly but they didn’t start that way, as Mícheal Finlay struck twice in the opening two minutes to get O’Demspey’s off to an ideal start.
It took Portlaoise ten minutes to open their account, with a strong run down the left wing from Gareth Dillon setting up Craig Rogers for a point. A minute later, Paul Cahillane beat Padraig Bannon with a shot at goal, but Peter O’Leary was on hand to save it on the line.
Zach Tuohy then levelled the scores with a ‘45, and Craig Rogers then gave Portlaoise the lead when a foul on Stuart Nerney allowed him to tap over a free.
When Zach Tuohy stroked over another point, this time from a free, it looked like Portlaoise might kick on from there, but they would not score again in the remaining 13 minutes of the half.
A storming run from Peter O’Leary set Ed Kelly up for a nice point, and Míchael Finlay then swung over a superb point form the left wing. This was then followed by a period of very poor shooting from Portlaoise, as they hit three wides in two minutes, and O’Demspey’s made them pay.
A couple of nice passes down the left wing eventually saw Míchael Finlay through on goal, and from the left side of the penalty area, he rifled a shot into the bottom right corner of Michael Nolan’s net.
That goal separated the sides at the break, and the last time Portlaoise had trailed at half time, against Portarlington, they emerged to blitz the opposition on the restart.
That wasn’t the case here, as Paul Cahillane’s early point was cancelled out by wonderful point from the right wing by Rory Bracken. Zach Tuohy hit back for Portlaoise with a point from 35 yards out, and Craig Rogers then got Portlaoise within one courtesy of a superb point from the right wing.
A first point of the game from Gareth Dillon then had the scores level with thirteen minutes remaining.
Just when it looked like Portlaoise had ground O’Dempsey’s down, the Killenard men hit back with a pointed free from Brian Nugent to retake the lead, but the whole dynamic of the game switched soon after.
Kelly’s speculative ball forward resulted in a goal for Craig Rogers, and the momentum swung in Portlaoise’s favour. They had been poor in front of goal all game long, hitting 12 wides, but after the goal, they could hardly miss.
Brian McCormack landed his first point of the day from the right wing, and Gareth Dillon quickly added another. O’Dempsey’s were out of the game now at this stage, and Paul Cahillane and Zach Tuohy put the icing on the cake with a couple of late points to seal another final berth.
Tuohy’s late score could be his last act for the club this year too, as he is due to fly back to Australia before the final, with late attempts being made to delay his return.