Portlaoise showcased their remarkable strength in depth last Thursday night as they assured themselves of top spot in ACFL Division 1 courtesy of this five point win over Graiguecullen.
It was by no means a weak team Portlaoise fielded, but it was certainly understrength. It’s sobering to think they could beat Graiguecullen, their closest challengers in the league, by five points while missing, to name just a few, Cahir Healy, Kieran Lillis, Conor Boyle, Craig Rogers, Aidan Fennelly, Paul Cahillane and Brian Mulligan.
Barry Fitzgerald was only introduced as a second half subsitute, while the likes of Stuart Nerney, Colm Byrne, Eoin Bland, Tommy Fitzgerald, Malachy McNulty, Colm Byrne and the recently returned Ian Fitzgerald weren’t involved either. Oh, and Zach Tuohy, who they had for last year’s championship semi-final and final, obviously wasn’t there either.
To be fair to Graiguecullen, they were missing a few starters too, with Mark Timmons, Barry Brennan and Michael Hand not involved, while Daryl Hayden only appeared as a second half subsititute. Even if they have everyone, and if every other club in the county is at full strength, it’s hard to see who is going to challenge Portlaoise from making it five SFC’s in a row.
They were slow to get going here in spite of Fergal Fennell’s first minute point, as Paul Bealin’s charges had the better of the early play. Lee Murphy equalized after Fennell’s score, but they kicked on from there and points from Danny Alsybury and Jimmy Bolton put them ahead at the end of the first quarter.
Brian McCormack (free) and Ambrose Doran then traded points, but really Graiguecullen should have pulled well ahead as they squandered a number of scoring opportunities. They would ultimately regret such profligacy.
Fergal Fennell and Hugh Coghlan pointed for Portlaoise to level the game, and a brace of points from each side before the half time whistle left it all square at the break, with the teams tied at 0-6 apiece.
If the first half was slow to get going, the second half was even slower, with the first score taking eleven minutes to arrive. It came from an Ian Fleming free, but that would be the last time Graiguecullen lead.
Portlaoise took control of the game when Hugh Coghlan beat Paddy Scully to a dropping ball and duly finished to the back of the net. Brian McCormack followed up with another goal just a minute later, and even with seventeen minutes to go, it looked like there was only going to be one winner.
Graiguecullen showed great resilience to stay in the game, and had the gap down to three points at one stage, but Portlaoise just pulled away in the the last few minutes, as points from Brian Glynn and Brian McCormack wrapped up the victory.
SCORERS - Portlaoise: Brian McCormack 1-4 (0-2 frees), Hugh Coghlan 1-1, Fergal Fennell 0-2, Ricky Maher (free), Brian Glynn, Tommy Scully 0-1 each; Graiguecullen: Ian Fleming 0-2 (both frees), Jimmy Bolton, Brian Maguire, Patrick Murphy, Jamie Parr (free), Danny Alsybury, Ambrose Doran, Lee Murphy 0-1 each
PORTLAOISE: Michael Nolan; Chris Higgins, David Browne, Brian Gaynor; Tommy Scully, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Jack Fennell; Hugh Coghlan, Paul Cotter; Brian Glynn, Brian McCormack, Adrian Kelly; Fergal Fennell, Colm Parkinson, Ricky Maher. Subs: Barry Fitzgerald for Parkinson (45 mins), Mark Kavanagh for Maher (47 mins), David Seale for Gaynor (50 mins), Graham Brody for Scully (52 mins), Martin Staunton for Kelly (52 mins)
GRAIGUECULLEN: Paddy Scully; Terry Haughney, Liam Kearney, Stephen Alsybury; Jimmy Bolton, Ross Alcock, Ian Fleming; Brian Maguire, Patrick Murphy; Shane O’Neill, Jamie Parr, Danny Alsybury; Ambrose Doran, Lee Murphy, Mark Doogue. Subs: Daryl Hayden for A Doran (36 mins - injured), Brian McDermott for Kearney (39 mins), Colm Doran for Parr (43 mins), James Doogue for P Murphy (50 mins), Barry Murphy for L Murphy (59 mins - injured)
Referee: John Flynn (The Rock)