KERRY were sucker-punched in 1982. Kilkenny couldn’t seal the deal last season. But, every so often, five-in-a-row dreams actually do become reality, as a pedigree-laden Portlaoise underlined when landing a fifth consecutive Laois SFC title at O’Moore Park yesterday.
Portlaoise recovered from a bout of first-half squanderlust to see off Graiguecullen by 1-12 to 1-6. In doing so, they became the first Laois football club to achieve that elusive five-timer.
The underdogs, appearing in their first county final in 30 years, had plenty of spirit but not remotely enough ring-craft for the reigning champions, who already look a strong early contender for Leinster honours.
The bad news is that they won’t have Zach Tuohy for the provincial series. The Irish International Rules panellist was among an array of star contributors yesterday but he’ll be back in the |throes of pre-season AFL training |with Carlton by November 13, when Portlaoise face the Louth champions, either Newtown Blues or St Patrick’s.
Even in the absence of Tuohy – whose bulked-up physique and run-all-day engine stood out – Portlaoise will be hotly fancied to win that opener. But they’re aiming even higher.
Many of these players lost a St Patrick’s Day final in 2005 and a semi-final two seasons ago, fuelling their All-Ireland desire.
As Laois defender Cahir Healy explained: “Growing up in Portlaoise with the tradition they have, you are always kind of playing in the shadows of those boys in the ’80s and ’70s that won so much. Maybe now we’re starting to take our place alongside them. Look, they won an All-Ireland (in 1983) and that’s our ultimate ambition, but to win five-in-a-row and do something that’s never been done before is huge."
Class ultimately won out yesterday, even though Portlaoise threatened to kick it away in the first half. The wind-assisted favourites appeared in cruise mode when leading 0-4 to 0-1 inside 12 minutes. But they failed to score again before the break as the first-half wide count soared into double figures and two goal chances came to nothing – including a 20th minute Paul Cahillane penalty, destined for the bottom right corner before Patrick Scully’s brilliant save.
When Ambrose Doran and Chris Hurley pointed for an improving Graiguecullen, the half-time deficit was suddenly reduced to one.
But Portlaoise’s slick passing and improved execution put third quarter daylight between the sides. Cahillane made amends for the penalty by bringing his tally from play to four points; then skipper Craig Rogers roofed a 52nd minute goal after a defence-shredding one-two with marauding wing-back Conor Boyle.
Graiguecullen managed a 57th-minute consolation goal, Michael Hand claiming the final touch to a Doran free dropped into the goalmouth. Their manager, former Dublin ace Paul Bealin, insisted his young charges have a great future if they stick to it but admitted the present is all about Portlaoise.
“The strength in depth in their squad is phenomenal. They’ll be very hard to beat in Leinster, never mind in Laois itself,” Bealin concluded.
SCORERS – Portlaoise: P Cahillane 0-5 (1f), C Rogers 1-0, Z Tuohy, B Fitzgerald 0-2 each, K Fitzpatrick, B Glynn, C Parkinson 0-1 each. Graiguecullen: M Hand 1-1, B Brennan 0-2 (1f), C Hurley, I Fleming (‘45’), A Doran 0-1 each.
PORTLAOISE: M Nolan; C Healy, K Fitzpatrick, B Mulligan; T Fitzgerald, K Lillis, C Boyle; H Coghlan, A Kelly; B Glynn, C Rogers, C Parkinson; P Cahillane, Z Tuohy, B Fitzgerald. Subs: M McNulty for T Fitzgerald (53), S Nerney for Kelly (54), I Fitzgerald for Rogers (inj 56), E Bland for Mulligan (58). Booked: Tuohy (28). Wides: 12 (10+2).
GRAIGUECULLEN: P Scully; T Haughney, M Timmons, S Aylesbury; C Hurley, I Fleming, R Alcock; M Hand, B Maguire; J Bolton, B Brennan, S O’Neill; L Murphy, D Hayden, A Doran. Subs: K Smith for Alcock (23), D Aylesbury for O’Neill (38), C Doran for Hayden (47), M Doogue for Timmons (53), B McDermott for Hurley (58). Booked: 0. Wides: 4 (2+2).
REF: D Murphy (Portarlington).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Kieran Lillis (Portlaoise).