DILLON SCREAMER STUNS PORTLAOISE

Stradbally deny Portlaoise ten in a row

DILLON SCREAMER STUNS PORTLAOISE
By Rory Delaney rory@leinsterexpress.ie @Express_Sport

A stunning late goal from Stradbally co-captain Jody Dillon saw his side claim one of the most dramatic Laois SFC final victories of all time in O'Moore Park on Sunday.

Dillon's 62nd minute exocet flew into the top-right corner of the Portlaoise net, sparking scenes of jubilation amongst the Stradbally support, and etching his name into history in the process.

There wasn't enough time for Portlaoise to fashion an equaliser, and so their dreams of a historic tenth Laois SFC title in a row were dashed. They have been an amazing side over the last ten years, with this being just their second defeat in a decade.

They have set incredibly high standards for both themselves and the rest of the clubs in the county, and it was by Stradbally striving for that level that they eventually caught them.

The 'Little Town', as they like to be known, were the last team to beat Portlaoise in a county final, back in 2005, and this was a case of history repeating itself. On both occasions it was a dramatic late score which got them over the line, although this year's game was the more entertaining of the two.

Stradbally showed a lot of maturity to keep themselves in the game, and even when Portlaoise had their periods of dominance, they refused to let their heads bow. So many teams get disheartened against Portlaoise that they never really challenge them, but Stradbally had the self belief to keep themselves in the game.

They have thrown a lifeline to the rest of the county as well, who will now see that Portlaoise can indeed be beaten. They will need time to get over this, and it is unlikely we will ever see a team on the brink of a tenth Laois SFC title in a row again. It was a tough defeat for them to take, but if there are any certainties in Laois club football, it is that they will come back again next year.

On the day, they opted not to introduce Zach Tuohy, who was amongst the substitutes. In hindsight, maybe they could have done with him, but with time almost up they seemed to have done enough to get the win.

Stradbally, meanwhile, have a Leinster club SFC campaign to look forward to, and they can take confidence knowing that, if they can beat Portlaoise, they can compete with anyone at that level.

They got off to a bright start, with a strong wind at their backs, thanks to a point from a Gary Comerford free. The Portlaoise response was clinical, even if it did take five minutes to come. Craig Rogers floated a ball into the penalty area, and Bruno McCormack rose highest to flick to the net. In the process, he injured himself, and would eventually be forced off, which was a massive blow to the reigning champions.

John Donohue got a point back for Stradbally, but Paul Cahillane cancelled that out with a free. Jody Dillon and Comerford again hit the target to get Stradbally level, and that set the tone for what was a closely fought game throughout.

Cahillane and Comerford traded scores before Comerford landed a point from distance, as Stradbally edged in front. David Seale responded for Portlaoise, as he got through on goal but saw his effort fly over the bar.

As added time at the end of the first half began, Stradbally seemed to click in attack, and they rattled off three points in two minutes, from Donohue, Padraig Fitzpatrick and Colm Begley, to put them three clear. Portlaoise had a chance to wipe that lead out in one fell swoop, but Liam Knowles produced a brilliant block on Conor Boyle to deny a goal.

Paul Cahillane did get a point back for Portlaoise before the half time whistle sounded, and Stradbally lead 0-9 to 1-4 at the break.

Portlaoise have been something of a second half team all year, and they showed that when play resumed. Paul Cahillane curled over an early free, and Brian Smyth added another from the right wing.

That left the scores level, and Portlaoise surged ahead with another point from Cahillane, while Gareth Dillon also got in on the act, as they now lead by two.

Having hit four in a row Portlaoise looked primed to kick on from there, but Gary Comerford intervened at that stage to drill a lot shot past Graham Brody, as his side retook the lead. Adrian Kelly quickly got Portlaoise back on level terms, and the game was now finely poised heading into the last 15 minutes.

Craig Rogers edged Portlaoise back in front with a free, but Gary Comerford responded in kind for Stradbally. With little to separate the teams, Portlaoise looked to have made the winning move three minutes from time. Stuart Nerney pointed from the right wing before a wonderful team move ended with Brian Mulligan sending them two ahead.

Two points is a dangerous lead though. Stradbally launched one last attack down the left wing, Gary Comerford picked out Jody Dillon 20 yards out, and the rest, as they say, is history.