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Port' fury at ref over early red

IF ever Hollywood dreams up a sequel to that Nicolas Cage flick, Gone In 60 Seconds, they might well turn to events at the Gaelic Grounds yesterday for inspiration. And call it Gone In 40 Seconds.

That's how long it took for Sligo whistler Michael Duffy to brandish a straight red card to Portlaoise wing-back Brian Mulligan. From then on, this was less action-packed thriller and more unremitting horror story for the red-hot favourites from Laois.

Portlaoise finished with 13 men and on the wrong end of a nine-point pasting from Kilmurry-Ibrickane, who duly became the first Clare side to qualify for the AIB All-Ireland club football showpiece on St Patrick's Day.

The contrasting scenes at the final whistle could not have been starker. In one half, a pitch invasion from the delirious Kilmurry fans, whose huge numbers suggested that only two cats and a dog stayed behind in west Clare.

At the same time, though, we had the unedifying spectacle of gardai and stewards moving sharply to restrain an enraged losing supporter seemingly hell-bent on sharing some 'unpleasantries' with the referee. But the recriminations didn't end there, and Portlaoise boss John Mulligan was scathing about the referee's early red (dismissing the manager's own son) and his performance thereafter.

He cited a couple of first half decisions, where Portlaoise players were blown up for illegal handpasses, as an "absolute joke", before adding: "If the man has a conscience he won't sleep for a long time -- and if he hasn't a conscience, sure there won't be a bother on him."



Rant

Mulligan was at pains to stress that he didn't wish to take away from Kilmurry-Ibrickane's fully deserving achievement, yet the tenor of his refereeing rant could well alert the attention of the CCCC.

Mulligan had already made his anger known at half-time, when he followed the referee for 40 yards, right to the tunnel entrance. The manager later said he had been trying to ask "a simple question: what do you have to do to give a proper handpass?"

Doubtless, though, the early sending-off was the genesis for much of Portlaoise's sense of victimhood. The incident -- a dangerously high tackle from Mulligan that flattened Shane Hickey -- looked bad in real time and not much better on replay.

However, given that it happened barely 10 seconds in, a lenient interpretation would suggest that a ring-rusty Mulligan deserved some benefit of the doubt, namely a yellow card.

Mulligan Snr complained that if the referee was going to be consistent, he should also have brandished straight red to a Kilmurry player who later ran in and "hops off one of our lads".

His Kilmurry counterpart, Michael McDermott, had a different take on the incident. "It was a very dangerous tackle, there's no doubt about that. Our player could have got seriously injured as a result," he argued.

"The referee, I thought, did a very good job today. Yes, it's easy to say that as a winner, but the scenes at the end, I think, were a little bit disgraceful -- to see the way he was being treated going off that field. No official should have to put up with that."

Both managers, though, were in agreement on the pivotal influence of that first-minute watershed.

"A sucker punch," lamented Mulligan, who felt his players would have found it easier to readjust if the game was even just five or 10 minutes old.

"A huge bearing," was the assessment of McDermott, whose dual brief as manager of Kilmurry and Clare will now continue for another month. Through this campaign, he pointed out, the Clare champions have become accustomed to facing 14 men and so the role of free man had become almost second nature to centre-back Enda Coughlan. This time, instead of concentrating on containment, Coughlan was given instruction to play a more positive role. The policy met with almost immediate results, as the Kilmurry captain burst forward unimpeded to knock over their second point in the fourth minute.

From there on, the scene was set for a script that no one (in Portlaoise or in punditry) had envisaged beforehand.

The midlanders were clearly rocked by the early red. They had no answer to the rapier movement of corner- forwards Michael O'Dwyer and Noel Downes, while late call-up Conor Boyle -- suddenly shunted from attack to wing-back -- struggled to keep wraps on the lively Stephen Moloney.

A rare beacon of Portlaoise hope came from the lung-busting efforts of Craig Rogers, while midfielder Brian McCormack proved arguably their most dangerous attacker, firing over two sweet points -- and a trio of wides.

But even McCormack's day ended prematurely. The county star had been booked in first-half injury-time for disputing a free (converted by Ian McInerney) that gave Kilmurry a commanding 0-9 to 0-4 cushion. Within nine minutes of the restart, he had picked up a second yellow.

Already, the contest was effectively over, but Downes delivered the last rites with a clinically finished 44th minute goal, stemming from another Portlaoise turnover and Mark McCarthy's fisted pass.


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