SPEAKING to the Leinster Express ahead of this weekend’s eagerly anticipated senior football final, Portlaoise joint manager Mick Lillis made a remark that gives a telling insight into the rivalry between his side and Arles Kilcruise.
See this Tuesday’s Leinster Express for full and in depth preview of this Sunday’s Laois SFC Final
When speaking on the strengths of their opponents, Lillis commented that Arles Kilcruise would have been disappointed if they had been facing St Joseph’s instead of Portlaoise in the final.
That observation hit the nail on the head as no team has consistently pushed Portlaoise closer over the last number of years and Arles Kilcruise will feel they are due a win after three narrow defeats in each of the last three years.
The genesis of this modern day rivalry was the 2009 final where Portlaoise did just enough to win to secure their first three-in-a-row in 22 years.
Arles Kilcruise came into the game as rank outsiders however they went toe to toe with Portlaoise and were a bounce of a ball away from creating a major shock.
A super save in the first half by Portlaoise goalkeeper Michael Nolan to deny Ross Munnelly was one of the key moments but as they have done in all three games, Kilcruise managed to restrict Portlaoise to a relatively low total including just three points in the first-half as the sides went to the break level.
They were within two late in the game but Portlaoise were awarded a dubious late penalty and Paul Cahillane slotted it away to seal the win.
The sides met again in the final in 2010 and this time Arles Kilcruise stood on the cusp of an upset only to be cruelly denied at the death.
With three minutes remaining and the sides level at 0-7 each, a sequence of play went against Arles-Kilcruise that swung the game definitively in Portlaoise’s favour. First referee John Flynn gave Cahir Healy the benefit of the doubt as he reckoned he didn’t foul Ross Munnelly in a race for possession. When Kilcruise did win the ball, he deemed that sub Kevin Sheridan threw the ball to a colleague. From the resulting free, Portlaoise moved the ball swiftly up the field and Barry Fitzgerald swung over the lead point.
And then, in injury time, Paul Cahillane finally swung the game definitively in Portlaoise’s favour. A Zach Tuohy shot looked to be dropping harmlessly short but Cahillane nipped in to punch past Jimmy McDonald. Arles-KIlcruise did respond with another Ross Munnelly free but by then it was too late to make a difference.
It was a cruel blow for an Arles-Kilcruise side who again had stiffled Portlaoise’s potent attacking threat for the majority of the game. Again the sides had been level at the break (0-4 apiece) Portlaoise did open up a 0-7 to 0-5 lead but Arles-KIlcruise showed dogged determination and had gotten back on level terms before the game was taken away from them in the final minutes.
After meeting in back to back finals, last year they were drawn together at the semi-final stage. This time however Portlaoise didn’t have to rely on late scores to win the game as they steadily built a lead which they managed to defend despite a late Arles Kilcruise rally.
Two points up at the break, Portlaoise made the crucial breakthrough when Hugh Coughlan found the back of the net shortly after the restart. From their Portlaoise always had their noses in front and while Arles Kilcruise did kick the last three points of the game, it was too late to change the result.
Portlaoise went on to complete the five-in-a-row while Arles Kilcruise returned to the drawing board surely hoping for another shot at dethroning the champions.
That chance comes this Sunday. It remains to be seen if they can finally break the cycle of being so near but yet do far from ending Portlaoise’s reign as Laois Senior Football Champions.