Éire Óg 2-11
By Kieran Murphy
ÉIRE Óg are through to their seventh Leinster senior football decider. On Saturday they proved far too good for the home side and were deserving winners. Now manager Joe Murphy has a number of problems. Situations which he would gladly have taken at the start of the Leinster campaign, but now have to be handled.
The mood of the players has to be soaring. Confidence must be at an all-time high. This week he has to bring them down and get an entire panel ready for the biggest game of their lives.
He has some healthy selection issues. He brought in four players here. Any of them would command regular starting places in any other senior side in the county. With three superbly struck frees, Niall Quinlan put his hand up highest for a start in the final.
The eventual winner got off to a flying start when Portlaoise erred at the back. Chris Blake took possession and found the net at the town end of the ground when his shot hit the inside left-hand post and flew across the line.
A startled Portlaoise side conceded the first point of the contest when Ross Dunphy bisected the posts. It wasn’t until six minutes in before Portlaoise finally got on the scoreboard with a point from Brian McCormack. Chris Blake replied for the visitors with a free and another point from play. They almost scored another goal when an incisive pass from Colm Hulton to Ross Dunphy almost put the in-form player in on goal behind the defence but Portlaoise did well to make a last-ditch intercept.
After a listless opening quarter from the home side Portlaoise began to find their feet. Éire Óg were put on the back-foot but they defended well to limit the efforts of Portlaoise to build up momentum.
Ricky Maher got the home side’s second score and then McCormack attacked down the right. He found Kieran Lillis up in support and the experienced midfielder’s shot eluded the combined efforts of Mark Fitzgerald and goalkeeper Ricky Keating to keep it out.
With further points from Lillis and Conor Boyle, the O’Moore’s had seized the initiative and looked set to take control. Éire Óg responded and when they lofted a high ball into the big square Portlaoise were found guilty of pushing Sean Gannon in the back and a penalty was awarded. Cormac Mullins took on the responsibility but to his dismay his shot to the bottom right-hand corner of the net didn’t have enough power on it to beat Graham Brody who made a comfortable save.
Credit to Mullins however. He picked himself up and he immediately dropped back to help out in a defensive role to help deny Portlaoise from turning the screw completely by hitting back with a score themselves.
Instead it was Éire Óg who finished the half strongly with Colm Hulton landing a hard-earned point to tie the scores at 1-5 each at the interval.
A 31st minute point by Chris Blake nudged Éire Óg back in front again. Five minutes later substitute Niall Quinlan converted a free. Blake stretched the Éire Óg lead to three with another score. The winners survived a bullet at this stage and Brian Glynn had reason to feel aggrieved when he broke behind the visiting defence and looked certain to get in on goal.
He was never allowed shoot and the foul came just outside the big square. McCormack converted the resultant free. Incredibly, it would be the last score of the game for the home side.
Two Quinlan frees at the end of the third quarter stretched the Éire Óg lead to four. Around that time Kieran Lillis picked up a second yellow card and his day was done.
On 57 minutes Darragh O’Brien’s successful effort acted as an insurance to a quick goal and a point by Portlaoise. It got better for Éire Óg and after breaking out of defence Ross Dunphy was at the end of one of the best passing moves of the game to slide the ball to the Portlaoise net.
In injury time, Conor Boyle of Portlaoise picked up a straight red which appeared to come on the advice of a linesman. It didn’t matter at that stage and no doubt the winning manager was already plotting and thinking of the next day out.
Éire Óg: Ricky Keating; Richie Mahon, Mark Fitzgerald, Benny Kavanagh; Jordan Lowry (0-1), Mark Furey, Paul McElligott; Jordan Morrissey, Eoghan Ruth; Sean Gannon, Darragh O’Brien (0-1), Ross Dunphy (1-1); Chris Blake (1-4, 0-1 free), Cormac Mullins, Colm Hulton (0-1). Subs: Niall Quinlan (0-3 frees) for Mullins (half-time), Derek Hayden for Hulton (50 mins), Recce Denieffe for O’Brien (57 mins), Kelvin Chatten for Mahon (62 mins).
Portlaoise: Graham Brody; David Seale, Frank Flanagan, Gary Saunders; Chris Finn, David Holland, Paddy Downey; Kieran Lillis (1-1), Ciaran McEvoy; Brian Glynn (0-1), Conor Boyle (0-1), Gareth Dillon; Brian McCormack (0-2, 0-1 free), Benny Carroll, Ricky Maher (0-1). Subs: Damon Larkin for Downey (half-time), Colin Finn for Holland (43 mins), Craig Rogers for Maher (47 mins), Ronan McEvoy for Flanagan (51 mins).
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Portlaoise).