Ballybrittas produced one of their finest performances of the season to easily dispose of hosts Portlaoise A in Rossleighan Park on Sunday morning. Goals from Brian Gaynor, Stephen Slevin and a 30-yard wonder strike from midfielder Mick O’Connell were enough to seal the win and a last-minute penalty from David Nevin merely took a tiny bit of gloss off an otherwise outstanding performance.
Given their respective league positions, Portlaoise would have been slight favourites coming into this one, but Ballybrittas have turned their season around since the Christmas break and with the addition of a few welcome new faces they are a much sterner prospect. Right from the start of this tie Ballybrittas seized control and they hit the front after only eleven minutes.
After a Portlaoise corner was quickly cleared by the Ballybrittas defence, Stephen Slevin held up possession while reinforcements arrived. The first of those was Brian Gaynor and when Slevin’s pinpoint pass sent Gaynor clean through, the Brittas frontman fired a low shot that bounced over Portlaoise keeper Danny Browne and into the back of the net.
The visitors were flying and less than five minutes later they doubled their lead. There seemed to be little signs of danger when Des McNair found Mick O’Connell with a throw in, but with nothing else on in front of him and no Portlaoise defender nearby, the veteran midfielder unleashed a terrific shot with the outside of his right boot that arowed into the top corner, dipping onto the underside of the crossbar and leaving the hapless Browne as a mere spectator.
Portlaoise were left stunned but they did manage to make it to the break without any further concessions. Twice Tomas Loughman created chances with strong runs down the right flank but both of those were spurned, while at the other end Portlaoise looked slightly off colour and were reduced to a couple of speculative long range efforts that were easily dealt with by their young keeper Padraig Bannon.
It was more of the same after the restart with Ballybrittas doing the majority of the pressing. They could easily have been three up early in the second period only to see two good chances wasted before another excellent counter attack finally produced that elusive third. Again it was the running of Tomas Loughman that provided the chance and he found striker Stephen Slevin with a neatly threaded pass. There was still plenty to do but Slevin calmly cut inside his man before placing his shot across Danny Browne’s goal and into the bottom left hand corner.
That was the end of the tie as far as the result was concerned but Portlaoise continued to search for at least a consolation goal. They should have had one with seven minutes left but a mixture of last-ditch defending and pure good fortune kept the ball from crossing the line. Padraig Bannon looked to have ensured his clean sheet with a superb save from Tom Kane’s stinging shot, but that was robbed from him right at the death when David Nevin was clumsily hauled down in the penalty area. Nevin stepped up and dispatched the spot kick, but Eddie O’Riordan sounded his full-time whistle seconds after the restart and Ballybrittas booked their spot in the semi-finals.
PORTLAOISE: Danny Browne, Dan Dunne (Philip Keogh 67), Mick O’Sullivan (Ger Campbell 67), Brian Bowe, Mark Farrell, Paul Lynch, Carl Connolly, Sean McFadden (David Houlihan 59), David Nevin, Tom Kane, James Houlihan.
BALLYBRITTAS: Padraig Bannon, Des McNair, Alan Gaynor, Eoin McGrath, Kyle Condron (Mark Fitzgerald 78), Mick O’Connell (Shane Mullins 74), Tomas Loughman, Eamon Dunne (Colin Kehoe 81), Darren Finlay (Johnny Greene 81), Brian Gaynor, Stephen Slevin (Kieran Connolly 81).
Referee: Eddie O’Riordan