Crokes show cool heads
Manager Carr praises Kilmacud's character after Kelleher goal caps brilliant comeback
Kilmacud Crokes 2-7
Leinster SFC Quarter-final
A good start may be half the battle but it won't win the war unless it's sustained.
Portlaoise managed the first part but failed to back it up against a patient Kilmacud side who worked their way calmly through some difficult problems before securing victory with a 58th-minute goal from Declan Kelleher in Portlaoise yesterday.
Substitute Mark Vaughan had drawn them level with a booming free-kick from out on the sideline two minutes earlier, completing a recovery which was chiselled out through hard work and persistence after a sloppy start.
Goals by Paul Cahillane from the penalty spot in the fourth minute and from Tommy Fitzgerald's punched effort off a Cahillane '45' six minutes later left the defending Leinster champions seven points clear, a substantial advantage at any time of year, but certainly in the sticky grounds of early November.
It provided Portlaoise with a sturdy platform but it wasn't enough to sustain them as their strike rate dried up alarmingly. They managed just two points in the remaining 50 minutes, whereas Kilmacud scored 2-6 to edge home by three points and line up a Leinster semi-final date with Garrycastle next Sunday week.
Portlaoise had a late chance to grab an equalising goal and, while they forced the ball to the Kilmacud net after a frantic scramble in the square, the referee had blown for a free out. It was the latest example of how the Kilmacud defence had squeezed out the Portlaoise attack, which lost its way after the excellent opening.
Ross O'Carroll, Conor Lamb and Cian O'Sullivan led Kilmacud's defensive resistance, Paddy Duggan did well at midfield, and in attack, Brian Kavanagh, Declan Kelleher and Pat Burke were always alert and inventive.
Portlaoise manager John Mulligan paid tribute to the Kilmacud defence, pointing out that their solidity in the second half was a key factor in the turnaround.
"They were absolutely fabulous," Mulligan said. "We have some very good forwards but they found it very hard to find space. We have no complaints -- Kilmacud were the better side. We got a great start but we needed to make more from the possession we enjoyed in the first half, especially coming up to half-time when we missed a few good chances."
Kilmacud's response to finding themselves 2-2 to 0-1 behind after 10 minutes was measured and effective and, while it took them some time to play themselves into the game, they made a significant breakthrough in the 22nd minute.
Craig Dias, who had come on as a sub for injured midfielder Niall Corkery, read a link-up between Adrian Morrissey and Kelleher perfectly to drift into space in front of the Portlaoise goal before flicking the ball to the net.
Portlaoise led by 2-3 to 1-3 at half-time but with the wind freshening in the second half, Kilmacud's prospects of completing a comeback looked good. Portlaoise's only score of the second half came seven minutes after the restart and, from there on, they were under intense scrutiny.
They were relying on counter-attacks to put pressure on Kilmacud but were repeatedly crowded out as they tried to work the ball into the scoring area. Kilmacud's strike rate wasn't especially high -- they kicked six wides in the second half -- but points from Kavanagh (48 minutes), Kelleher (53) and Vaughan (56) brought them level before they struck for the winning goal.
It was quite a comeback by a Kilmacud side which has had to cope with a spate of injury problems. Winning in the manner they did was hugely satisfactory and sets them up for a real bid at regaining the provincial title they last won two years ago, en route to taking the All-Ireland title.
Manager Paddy Carr described it as one of the sweetest victories in Kilmacud's history which, given their success rate, was quite a statement. Still, Carr's delight was understandable as his side had won it the hard way with a very committed performance.
"It was all about heart, courage and character. We didn't panic when we fell behind early on. There was still a long way to go and we felt we could work our way back into the game. We might not have been as clinical up front as we would have liked but we were up against a very good defence," Carr said.
And what of Vaughan's booming equaliser? A case of typical Mark Vaughan?
"The only thing typical of Mark is that there's nothing typical of him," joked Carr.
There was, however, something typical about how Kilmacud sorted out their early problems and restricted a very experienced Portlaoise side to just two points in the final 50 minutes.
"You're not going to win games scoring two points over such a long time. Still, we gave it everything but Kilmacud were that bit better this time," conceded Mulligan.
For Kilmacud it was a case of a job well done in the end, thanks to the calm way they responded to the early setback.
"We put the heads down and kept working away. That took us through in the end," said Kavanagh, who had fought a great duel with Portlaoise full-back Cahir Healy.
Scorers -- Kilmacud Crokes: D Kelleher 1-1, C Dias 1-0, B Kavanagh 0-3 (0-3f), M Vaughan (0-1f), B O'Rorke (0-1f), P Burke 0-1 each. Portlaoise: P Cahillane 1-1 (1-0 pen), T Fitzgerald 1-0, B Fitzgerald (0-1f), C Rogers, B Glynn 0-1 each.
Kilmacud -- D Nestor; K Nolan, Ross O'Carroll, C Lamb; B McGrath, C O'Sullivan, R Ryan; N Corkery, P Duggan; L Og O hEineachain, D Kelleher, A Morrissey; B O'Rorke, B Kavanagh, P Burke. Subs: C Dias for Corkery (20), M Vaughan for O'Rorke (42).
Portlaoise -- M Nolan; E Bland, C Healy, B Mulligan; K Lillis, H Coughlan, C Boyle; A Kelly, B McCormack; B Glynn, T Fitzgerald, C Rogers; P Cahillane, B Fitzgerald, K Fitzpatrick. Subs: S Nerney for Kelly (46), E Browne for Cahillane (60).
Ref -- C Reilly (Meath).