Razor-sharp Canning cuts through dogged Dunloy
Talented teams usually find a way to survive, and Portumna absorbed a typically passionate Dunloy challenge to book an All-Ireland club final place for the fourth time in five years.
Dunloy, who packed their defence with bodies, were gritty and tough, and while Portumna didn't hurl to maximum potential they still were assured enough to emerge winners by a dozen points. That is the sign of a truly special outfit, and Portumna's thoughts have already turned to their next St Patrick's Day assignment with Ballyhale Shamrocks. Manager Johnny Kelly acknowledged that Portumna's display wasn't perfect, but he was content that the holders coped well during Dunloy's second-half rally.
"I wasn't too worried when Dunloy got on top there for a while at the start of the second half because we had told the players to expect that. At half-time, we again said that they may get a run on us, what was important was that if they did get a few scores together that we would respond and get on the board again.
"We were beaten by Dunloy before, and maybe that day we weren't ready for a battle, but we realised it was going to be a battle this time around. We were happy enough to get out with a win that was all that mattered to us," was Kelly's assessment.
With Joe Canning razor-sharp from frees, Portumna led by 0-4 to 0-3 12 minutes in, and the favourites then whipped 1-4 without reply. Kevin Hayes, excellent at centre-forward, Damien Hayes, Peter Smith, and Canning all contributed points before Ciaran Ryan's 19th-minute goal. That goal was fashioned by a subtle Canning hand-pass; Ryan scampered away from the cover, and nudged Portumna into a healthy position.
Leading 1-10 to 0-5 at the interval, Portumna didn't appear to be in any danger, but Dunloy summoned a fiery riposte when the action recommenced. Paul Shiels (2), Gregory O'Kane, and Liam Richmond raised white flags for Dunloy, but Portumna's concentration never wavered, and the initiative was seized once Canning terminated a 13-minute search from a score.
From there to the finish, Portumna were in cruise control with Canning decorating the victory with a 57th-minute goal from a 23-yard free.
News was filtering through Donnycarney that Ballyhale, who Portumna defeated in a goal-laden affair at the penultimate stage in 2009, had outfoxed Newtownshandrum, and Kelly admitted that next month's tussle ought to be tasty.
"Ballyhale and Newtownshandrum are two quality teams, and I felt there would only be a puck of the ball in it, and that is the way it turned out. We meet Ballyhale now and they will have a lot of motivation after last year. It should be a great game."
Scorers -- Portumna: J Canning 1-8 (1-8f), C Ryan 1-1, A Smith, K Hayes 0-3 each, D Hayes 0-2, P Smith 0-1. Dunloy: P Shiels 0-4 (4f), K McKeague, S Dowds (2f) 0-2 each, G O'Kane, L Richmond, P Doherty, P Richmond 0-1 each.
Portumna -- I Canning; A O'Donnell, E McEntee, O Canning; G Heagney, M Ryan, P Smith; L Smith, E Lynch; A Smith, K Hayes, C Ryan; D Hayes, J Canning, M Dolphin.
Dunloy -- G McGhee; M McClements, J McKeague, Cathaior Cunning; K McKeague, Conor Cunning, K Molloy; P Shivers, P Shiels; G O'Kane, L Richmond, C Cunning; P Doherty, P Richmond, S Dowds. Subs: A Elliott for Dowds (35), D Kelly for Doherty (45), M Molloy for Shivers (52).
Ref -- B Gavin (Offaly).