Portlaoise enjoy six of best as Cahillane stars
Portlaoise continued their dominance of Laois football by securing a sixth title in a row in O'Moore Park.
They justified their favourites tag once again, easing to a seven-point win over a spirited but limited Arles-Kilcruise side, who themselves suffered a third final defeat in four years. Portlaoise were just too strong all over the field, and Brian McCormack's early goal set them up for a record-breaking sixth title in succession.
Arles-Kilcruise have been the only team to challenge their dominance in recent years, but once they fell behind to McCormack's eighth-minute goal the writing was on the wall. It meant they had to chase the game, and that opened the play up enough for Portlaoise to unleash their quick, strong-running style of play to maximum effect.
Afterwards, Portlaoise's joint-manager Mark Kavanagh pointed to McCormack's goal as a key moment in the game. "If you're playing one of these so-called defensive teams, if we can get a goal, they have to come out, and when they come out we can open them up.
"We got into a lead, we got a few points on the board and they had to come out and play a bit more."
That crucial goal came after Paul Cahillane and David Conway had traded early points, with Kilcruise looking to keep the game tight.
Goalkeeper James McDonald then tried a short kick-out to Colm Munnelly, but it hung in the air too long and Barry Fitzgerald was able to break the ball to Cahillane. His quick pass to an unmarked McCormack left him in a one-on-one, and he buried his shot past McDonald.
Cahillane added another point soon after, but Kilcruise composed themselves and had it back to a single score, 1-4 to 0-4, after 19 minutes. They couldn't keep it up, though, and Portlaoise went 1-7 to 0-5 ahead before the break with points from Craig Rogers and Brian Glynn, while McDonald pulled off a stunning double save to deny Cahillane a goal.
The second half started with Portlaoise once again on the attack, as they ratcheted up the intensity on a strained Arles-Kilcruise defence. They forced them into a number of rushed passes and that lead to the first score of the half, when the excellent Cahillane scored from the right wing after the Kilcruise full-back line came under pressure.
Brian Smith added another moments later before McCormack almost struck for his second goal, only to see his thunderous drive hit the side-netting.
Even without that going in, it already looked like game over as Portlaoise then led by seven and Arles-Kilcruise were making few inroads at the other end of the field.
Their main attacking threat, Ross Munnelly, could find little space against inter-county colleague Cahir Healy, and Arles' first score of the half didn't come until the 49th minute, from a Munnelly free.
Both sides seemed resigned to the final outcome at that stage, with a couple of flashpoints between players on both sides the only action of note in the second half.
As Leinster's most successful club side, Portlaoise will now turn their focus to the provincial championship, and Kavanagh revealed this win was just part of the bigger picture.
"The way we looked at this was that it was the fifth game of a 12-game series," Kavanagh said.
"We'll look at the first round of the Leinster Championship now, we're playing either the Carlow or the Wicklow champions and we'll take that game as it comes."
SCORERS -- Portlaoise: P Cahillane 0-4 (1f), B McCormack 1-1, C Boyle, B Smith 0-2 each, T Fitzgerald, C Rogers, B Fitzgerald (1f), B Glynn 0-1 each; Arles-Kilcruise: R Munnelly 0-5 (4f), C Conway (f), K Meaney, D Conway, E Stynes 0-1 each.
PORTLAOISE -- M Nolan; T Fitzgerald, C Healy, B Mulligan; P Cotter, K Lillis, C Rogers; C Boyle, A Kelly; H Coghlan, B Fitzgerald, B Glynn; P Cahillane, B McCormack, B Smith. Subs: S Nerney for Kelly (47), K Fitzpatrick (54) for Boyle, B Gaynor for Glynn (58), L McGovern (58) for McCormack.
ARLES-KILCRUISE -- J McDonald; M O'Shea, P Conway, R Stynes; JP Conway, C Munnelly, A McElroy; S Miller, K Meaney; E Stynes, D Conway, J Conway; D Carroll, R Munnelly, C Conway. Subs: F Egan for McElroy (28), B Conway for E Stynes (55), F Tully for Carroll (55)
Ref -- J Brennan (Crettyard)