A year and six days after meeting in last year’s decider, Portlaoise turned the tables on Castletown/Slieve Bloom by beating them by almost exactly the same score-line in Sunday afternoon’s Division 3 final.
Division 3 HL FInal
Castletown/Slieve Bloom 0-10
Only three of the losing Portlaoise side from last year’s final made the cut this time around, compared to ten from Castletown/Slieve Bloom, but it was two of the new boys who made the difference with Kevin Whelan’s goal and Derek Delaney’s superbly accurate free-taking that ensured the win for a well-drilled Portlaoise outfit.
Not even the dismissal of Tommy Mulligan early in the second half could unhinge Portlaoise’s quest for revenge and despite looking second-best at times during this entertaining clash in Fr Breen Park in Abbeyleix, Portlaoise got the crucial scores at the crucial times and Castletown/Slieve Bloom were forced to relinquish their title.
The amalgamated side started very brightly and opened up a three point lead in the first ten minutes. Points from Podge Cuddy, JP Campion and two frees from Seamus Lyons made for a solid start with Portlaoise’s only response coming from a Derek Delaney free. That was about to change shortly afterwards however, with a fine point from,. Tommy Mulligan preceding the only goal of the game from Kevin Whelan midway through the half.
Whelan and Castletown keeper Ben Cuddy battled for possession after a high ball into the area. Cuddy got to it first but Whelan’s block left the keeper stricken and the Portlaoise forward let fly with a low shot into the empty net from ten yards out.
Seamus Lyon’s restored parity briefly two minutes later with his third free of the game but three cheap frees allowed Portlaoise’s marksman Derek Delaney to find his range and he duly converted all three of those to restore his side’s advantage, and from that point on it was a lead that Portlaoise never let slip. A JP Campion free reduced the deficit to two points with the last score of the half but it was the county town men who went in the happier at the break with a 1-5 to 0-6 lead.
Campion repeated the trick a minute after resumption but two well taken scores from Conor Dunne and Tommy Mulligan restored the three-point lead before an ugly clash ended Mulligan’s involvement. The Portlaoise midfielder battled with Tom Phelan for possession but they continued after the ball had gone. Mulligan claimed that Phelan had struck him with the butt of his stick but all the referee saw was the resulting swipe from Mulligan and he was shown a straight red card, with Phelan escaping with a yellow for his part in the melee.
John Palmer fired over the free from the half-way line and at that stage it seemed that their numerical advantage might see Castletown/Slieve Bloom retaining their title. But as is often the case, the fourteen men upped their game and the they hit four points on the trot to leave one hand on the trophy.
Three of those were from Derek Delaney frees with Gary Bergin adding the other as Castletown/Slieve Bloom lost their way midway through the second half. With just over ten minutes remaining they finally seemed to get the measure of Portlaoise and were handed the best possible chance to get back in contention when Portlaoise keeper Michael Bowe dumped Podge Cuddy to the ground in the square and a penalty was awarded.
Substitute James Tobin had only come on three minutes prior to the incident but he was the man handed the task but the youngster saw his low effort saved by Bowe and the chance was lost.
Another John Palmer score two minutes later reduced the gap to four points but that was to be their last effort that found the target and when the flawless Derek Delaney converted his seventh free of the day the game was up.
It was sweet revenge for the Town men after last year’s disappointment but they were full value for the win this time around and captain Darren Murphy, one of those three survivors from the 2011 final graciously accepted the trophy from Brian Allen to spark joyous scenes from the Portlaoise contingent.
Scorers: Portlaoise – Derek Delaney 0-9 (all frees), Kevin Whelan 1-0, Tommy Mulligan 0-2, Gary Bergin 0-1. Castletown/Slieve Bloom – Seamus Lyons 0-4 (all frees), John Palmer (0-1f) and JP Campion (0-2f) 0-2 each, Podge Cuddy and Barry McElvey 0-1 each.
Portlaoise: Michael Bowe, Dean Lynch, Darren Murphy, Chris Lynch, Eoin Phelan, Rocky Scully, Daire Duggan, Tommy Mulligan, Dermot Lalor, Craig Scully, Conor Dunne, Derek Delaney, Kevin Whelan, Ciaran McEvoy, Gary Bergin. Subs: Robbie McGuinness for C. Scully (38mins).
Castletown/Slieve Bloom: Ben Cuddy, Enda Conway, Joe Delaney, Tom Delaney, John Lowry, John Palmer, Tom Phelan, Eoin Dooley, Tadgh Dooley, Richie Kingston, Podge Cuddy, Barry McElvey, Kevin Carroll, JP Campion, Seamus Lyons. Subs: Fionan O’Sullivan for Carroll (40mins), James Tobin for Lyons (44mins), Gearoid Lowry for Phelan (58mins, inj).