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Portlaoise up ante to end Rathnew dreams

PORTLAOISE may have been touted from the outset as favourites to land another Leinster club football title this winter, but their progress through the province continues to be more topsy-turvy than triumphant.

Last weekend, they were pushed to the pin of their collar -- and extra-time -- before edging past St Patrick's of Louth.

And yesterday they found themselves trailing a resurgent Rathnew by 0-8 to 0-4 when the half-time whistle sounded in O'Moore Park.

Yet if the five-in-a-row Laois champions are liable to bouts of going walkabout, they are equally capable of blitzing opponents when the mood takes them. So it transpired here, as they outscored the faltering Wicklow representatives by 1-10 to 0-4 after half-time to win by an ultimately clearcut 1-14 to 0-12.

"The first-half display wasn't all bad," insisted Portlaoise manager Mark Kavanagh afterwards.

"Basically when it came down to it, we just weren't winning enough dirty ball and we were giving away frees in the full-back line.

"After half-time, we started to win that dirty ball and Rathnew probably started to flag a little bit. That's what it looked like on the sideline, that maybe they got a bit tired after a hard game last weekend."

Rathnew had surprisingly lost last weekend's county final but qualified for Leinster because their Wicklow conquerors (St Mary's) were an amalgamated side.

They showed little sign of feeling sorry for themselves in that first half, with James Stafford dictating midfield, Leighton Glynn and Tommy Gill causing damage up front and manager Harry Murphy later describing it as "the best football we have played in quite a while."

Yet Portlaoise were transformed on the resumption, even before Brian Gaynor slalomed through a helpless Rathnew defence for a magnificent goal on 37 minutes.

By the 49th minute they were already six up and coasting, and their reward is an enticing Parnell Park showdown against an equally fancied St Brigid's of Dublin on Sunday week.

SCORERS -- Portlaoise: P Cahillane (3f), C Rogers (2f), 0-4 each, C Parkinson 0-3, B Gaynor 1-0, B McCormack 0-2, B Smith 0-1. Rathnew: L Glynn 0-6 (4f), T Gill 0-4 (3f), N Mernagh 0-2.

PORTLAOISE: M Nolan; T Fitzgerald, K Fitzpatrick, B Mulligan; B Gaynor, C Healy, C Boyle; B Glynn, H Coughlan; C Parkinson, C Rogers, A Kelly; P Cahillane, B McCormack, B Smith. Subs: I Fitzgerald for Parkinson (56), E Whelan for Kelly (58).

RATHNEW: J Hollingsworth; A Clarke, D Power, P Merrigan; S Byrne, S Canavan, D Franey; J Stafford, N Mernagh; S Kavanagh, T Gill, E Franey; P Ellis, M Doyle, L Glynn. Subs: E Doyle for Byrne (ht), C Healy for Merrigan (49), R O'Brien for Franey (49), B Mernagh for Kavanagh (50), P Murphy for Ellis (54).

REF: S Doyle (Wexford).