Smith's late effort ensures Portlaoise squeeze past spirited Sarsfields
Portlaoise 2-5 Sarsfields 0-10
A Brian Smith point in the final minute of normal time saw Portlaoise edge out a valiant Sarsfields effort in O'Moore Park yesterday.
Smith's score finally put an end to a spirited performance by 14-man Sarsfields, after they hauled themselves level in the second half.
The game was in doubt prior to throw-in after the mother of Portlaoise manager Malachy McNulty passed away on Friday night, but the game went ahead with his blessing, and his players turned in a winning display. They now go on to play Killoe of Longford, after they managed to get past Navan O'Mahonys.
The first ten minutes or so were lost to the conditions, as both teams struggled to play any good football on a heavy surface and in the face of a stiff breeze. Sarsfields finally broke the deadlock with two Sean Dempsey points in the 13th minute, and Dan Nea added another soon after.
Portlaoise didn't open their account until the 21st minute, with a strong run down the left wing from Gareth Dillon resulting in him fisting over from a tight angle. Paul Cahillane added another before a controversial two-minute spell.
Portlaoise were first awarded a penalty when Steven Lawlor blocked Paul Cahillane's shot with his foot. Craig Rogers tucked away the spot-kick to the bottom corner, but in a bout of pushing and shoving after the ball hit the net, Lawlor picked up a second yellow card, and was sent off. Rogers was also booked for his part in the incident.
Sarsfields finished the half strongly though as points from Sean Campbell and Ray Cahill (free) left the teams level at 1-2 to 0-5 at the interval. The game was set up for Portlaoise to kick on and claim the victory but to Sarsfields' credit, they played as well when they had 14 men as they did with the full complement.
Gareth Dillon pointed first when play resumed after good work from Craig Rogers to set him up. Sarsfields almost hit back with a goal when Ben McCormack raced through on goal, but his shot was superbly saved by Graham Brody.
Two minutes later, the Kildare champions were level when Ray Cahill pointed a superb long-range free, and they went ahead when Cahill added another from a placed ball. With the challenge put up to them, Portlaoise responded within a minute. A wonderful incisive move ended with Brian Glynn seeing his close-range shot blocked on the line, but the in-rushing Cahillane was alert to the loose ball and hammered it to the net from close range.
Sarsfields wasted little time in feeling sorry for themselves, and they forced Eoghan Whelan into coughing up possession on the left wing, which allowed them to counter-attack. They did superbly, working the ball to full-forward Sean Dempsey, and he held his nerve to slot over his third point of the game.
A Brian McCormack point in reply from Portlaoise put two between the teams again, before another lull in scoring. A full 13 minutes would pass before another score was registered, but when it arrived it set up a frantic end to the game.
Cahill scored his fourth point for Sarsfields to leave the minimum in it, and Sarsfields soon drew level when Cahill held his nerve to point a close-range free off his left foot.
The momentum appeared to be with the Kildare kingpins, but the home side came up with a score just when they needed it, as Paul Cahillane set up Brian Smith to point from close range. Sarsfields dug deep again and had one late chance, but Cahill's long-range free went narrowly wide, as Portlaoise held on.
SCORERS - Portlaoise: P Cahillane 1-1, C Rogers 1-0 (pen), G Dillon 0-2, B Smith, B McCormack 0-1 each. Sarsfields: R Cahill 0-5 (4f), S Dempsey 0-3, S Campbell, D Nea 0-1 each.
PORTLAOISE - G Brody; D Seale, C Healy, P Cotter; E Whelan, K Lillis, B Mulligan; C Boyle, D Cullen; G Dillon, B Smith, B Glynn; B McCormack, P Cahillane, C Rogers. Subs: C Finn for Seale (38, BC), R Maher for Glynn (43), K Fitzpatrick for Cullen (52).
SARSFIELDS - A O'Brien; S Campbell, D McDonnell, S Lawlor; C McInerney Aspell, A Scully, C McConnell; M Byrne, G White; R Fitzgibbon, R Cahill, C Kavanagh; D Nea, S Dempsey, B McCormack. Subs: C Duffy for Scully (17), C Hartley for Fitzgibbon (h-t), C Scanlon for Nea (52), S Ryan for McInerney Aspell (54), J Healy for McDonnell (60).
Ref - B Tierney (Dublin)