In the latest outing of the Laois SFC equivalent of David versus Goliath, Goliath remains unbeaten. Portlaoise just keep racking up the titles, as they had too much for Arles-Kilcruise once again on Sunday afternoon.
Laois Senior Football Championship Final
If this game was anything to go by, then the gap between Portlaoise and the chasing pack is getting wider. Arles-Kilcruise had always been able to keep things close against the reigning champions, but there was seven points in it at the final whistle here. In the closing stages of the game, Kilcruise looked like a side that had tried everything they could, not just in this game but in all the others too, but just couldn’t figure out how to beat Portlaoise.
Once again they brought the fight to Portlaoise, but the eighth minute goal from Brian McCormack always looked like it was going to be crucial. In the last three knockout championship games between them, goals had been decisive, and they had always gone to Portlaoise. That proved to be the case again on Sunday, and falling three points behind so early left Arles-Kilcruise in a very difficult situation.
As is their nature, however, they never once threw in the towel, and they were scrambling for scores all the way to the final whistle. They kept the game tight for most of the first half, that goal separating the teams for a little over 20 minutes, only for Portlaoise to pull five clear at half time.
When Paul Cahillane and Brian Smith added scores early in the second half to open up a seven point lead, that was that, and there were neutrals heading for the exits long before the final whistle.
Portlaoise will now turn their attentions to the Leinster championship, which they will surely push hard to win. If they don’t, they will probably get a chance again next year, because it’s hard to see who or when they will be beaten in the Laois championship. As a show of their strength, all four subs they brought in had intercounty experience with Laois at some grade. So had all of the starting 15, with more of a similar ilk left unused on the line.
They were quick out of the traps too, with Paul Cahillane setting up Conor Boyle for the game’s opening score with a little over a minute gone. Arles-Kilcruise responded through David Conway, as he collected a break from Eoin Stynes and scored a wonderful point off his left foot. Four minutes later, however, a crucial score would arrive.
James McDonald tried to pick out Colm Munnelly with a short kickout, but the ball hung in the air too long and gave Barry Fitzgerald time to nip in and break the ball. It fell kindly for Paul Cahillane, and he passed to an unmarked Brian McCormack, who drilled a shot past McDonald.
Cahillane then added a point two minutes later as Portlaoise pushed four ahead, but Arles-Kilcruise settled back into the game thanks to a Chris Conway free. Both teams then traded three points apiece to leave that goal between the teams at the end of normal time, but Portlaoise had one final push left in them before the break. A jinking run by Craig Rogers saw him score a great point while Brian Glynn added another off his left foot to send them five clear.
They could have even wrapped it up before the half time whistle, when Paul Cahillane was twice thwarted by James McDonald. The first was when Cahillane got free 12 yards out and unleashed a shot which McDonald did well to parry. The ball was still there to be finished, and despite Cahillane getting to it first and getting shot in on goal, McDonald scrambled back to somehow get a hand to it and push it around the post.
The second half started with a controversial high challenge from Chris Conway on Brian Mulligan which earned him a yellow card, but Portlaoise responded with points from Cahillane and Brian Smith sent them seven ahead. The second goal Portlaoise had been threatening almost came a minute later, but Brian McCormack’s thunderous drive could only find the sidenetting.
The first real flashpoint in the game then arrived, when an off the ball incident involving Ross Munnelly and Craig Rogers resulted in the Portlaoise man on the ground. Both players then became involved, with Diarmuid Carroll heightening tensions when he tried to drag Rogers up off the ground. When tempers finally came back under control, it resulted in Carroll and Kevin Meaney being yellow-carded.
There wasn’t much more of not happening after that, with Portlaoise going nine clear at one stage. Arles-Kilcruise didn’t get their first point of the half until the 49th minute, from a Ross Munnelly free, and they struggled for scores until the final whistle. Ross Munnelly didn’t get his first point from play until injury time, a testament to Cahir Healy’s man-marking abilities, and the final say was left to Tommy Fitzgerald who came up from corner-back to seal a seven point win.
SCORERS – Portlaoise: Paul Cahillane 0-4 (one free), Brian McCormack 1-1, Conor Boyle, Brian Smith 0-2 each, Tommy Fitzgerald, Craig Rogers, Barry Fitzgerald (free), Brian Glynn 0-1 each; Arles-Kilcruise: Ross Munnelly 0-5 (four frees), Chris Conway (free), Kevin Meaney, David Conway, Eoin Stynes 0-1 each
PORTLAOISE: Michael Nolan; Thomas Fitzgerald, Cahir Healy, Brian Mulligan; Paul Cotter, Kieran Lillis, Craig Rogers; Conor Boyle, Adrian Kelly; Hugh Coghlan, Barry Fitzgerald, Brian Glynn; Paul Cahillane, Brian McCormack, Brian Smith. Subs: Stuart Nerney for Kelly (47 mins), Kevin Fitzpatrick for Boyle (54 mins), Brian Gaynor for Glynn (58 mins), Liam McGovern for McCormack (58 mins)
ARLES-KILCRUISE: James McDonald; Michael O’Shea, Padraig Conway, Rory Stynes; JP Conway, Colm Munnelly, Anthony McElroy; Stephen Miller, Kevin Meaney; Eoin Stynes, David Conway, James Conway; Diarmuid Carroll, Ross Munnelly, Chris Conway. Subs: Francis Egan for McElroy (28 mins), Brendan Conway for E Stynes (55 mins), Francis Tully for Carroll (55 mins)
Referee: James Brennan (Crettyard)