Friday 20 April 2018

Laois SFC Final: Fitzpatrick puts Portlaoise in seventh heaven

Portlaoise 2-8 Arles Killeen 1-8

Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

BADLY bitten by the Celtic Tiger in a property deal that plunged the club into millions of euro worth of debt, Portlaoise's remarkable on-field success continued unabated here in O'Moore Park.

BADLY bitten by the Celtic Tiger in a property deal that plunged the club into millions of euro worth of debt, Portlaoise's remarkable on-field success continued unabated here in O'Moore Park.

A record-breaking seventh county title on the bounce etched 'The Town' into the history books as Arles Killeen fell to a second-half power surge that saw them held to just two points after the interval.

Fresh from his International Rules heroics the night before, Zach Tuohy was held in reserve until the final minutes but it was inspiration from two of their long-established players that got Portlaoise over the line.

A Kevin Fitzpatrick goal and two crucial Brian 'Bruno' McCormack pointed frees in the final quarter saw Portlaoise home, and allowed the pair to collect championship medal No 10.

Fitzpatrick's goal had an element of luck to it but it was the telling score of the game, coming when they were two points in arrears.

McCormack's shot was half blocked into Fitzpatrick's path and an instinctive flick guided the ball to the net to hand Portlaoise the initiative.

Soon afterwards, McCormack landed two huge frees before Craig Rogers put four between the teams. Donie Kingston replied to put Killeen within a score but the goal they needed wouldn't come.

The bookmakers had this one down as a foregone conclusion, offering 1/6 about Portlaoise but locally there was an expectation that Arles Killeen would make life difficult for the defending champions.

In Pat Ryan they had a man who not only helped train Olympic champion Katie Taylor, but also someone who knew this Portlaoise side intimately, having served as a selector with the Town.

They had also been one of the form teams in Laois, reaching league and cup finals. On the other hand, Portlaoise lost their first championship match in six years earlier in the competition, when blowing a 12-point lead against Graiguecullen.

Arles Killeen enjoyed the better start to the game with Paul Kingston and Donie Brennan looking lively but it was the reigning champions who grabbed the game's first goal.

The Arles Killeen defence over-elaborated when clearing their lines, leaving goalkeeper Michael Leigh exposed.

He hauled Brian Smith to the ground as he was about to roll home and referee Eddie Kinsella gave the penalty that Craig Rogers dispatched to the net.

Killeen responded immediately through a Paul Kingston free before he grabbed their only goal with a brilliant solo effort.

Kingston gathered possession and rounded Brian Mulligan before calmly rolling the ball beneath the out-rushing Michael Nolan to give his side a two-point lead.

Arles Killeen had their tails up now and Donie and Paul Kingston added two more points. Craig Rogers mustered a reply for Portlaoise to leave Pat Ryan's men with a 1-6 to 1-3 lead at the interval.

Portlaoise were better on the restart with Cahir Healy switched to curb the influence of Paul Kingston. And though they fell four points behind when Laois great Brian 'Beano' McDonald clipped over, they would dominate the remainder of the game.

Donie Brennan couldn't exert the same influence from centre-forward while Donie Kingston was crowded out at midfield.

At the other end, Portlaoise were efficient and when Fitzpatrick goaled they bolted for home and never looked back.

"I thought we made a good start to the game in the first 10 minutes," said Cahir Healy, who had only came back onto the panel recently after opting to concentrate solely on hurling with the club.

"After that I don't know what happened but they probably dominated the first half.

"They upped their work rate and their tackling was really good. Michael Nolan made a good save and we could well have been further down.


"But three points wasn't too much to be down so there was no general panic at half-time. It wasn't a massive lead and though we weren't happy how we played, we weren't panicking.

"We have good confidence in ourselves at this stage and that's what winning does.

"It gives you a lot of belief but there was an urgency that we needed to up our game and start going forward with it instead of sideways."

For Arles Killeen, the wait for a first senior crown goes on while Portlaoise prepare for a November 10 date with the winners of Longford Slashers' game with the Wicklow champions. And after losing out in last year's provincial decider, Healy insists they are determined to go one better.

"Once you win the county you celebrate because who knows when the run will stop. I won a senior hurling medal at 17 and I'm 26 now and I'm still waiting on the second so you have to savour it.

"I'm sure the management and players will want a go at Leinster and we were in the final last year so we certainly feel there's some unfinished business there."

SCORERS – Portlaoise: C Rogers 1-4 (1-0 pen, 2fs), K Fitzpatrick 1-0, B McCormack 0-2 (2fs), P Cahillane, C Healy 0-1 each.

Arles Killeen: P Kingston 1-3 (2fs), D Brennan (2fs), D Kingston (1f) 0-2 each, B McDonald 0-1.

Portlaoise – M Nolan; M McNulty, B Mulligan, D Seale; E Whelan, C Healy, T Fitzgerald; C Boyle, K Lillis; B Glynn, B Fitzgerald, C Rogers; P Cahillane, B McCormack, B Smith Subs: P Cotter for Seale (h-t), K Fitzpatrick for Smith (41), Z Tuohy for B Fitzgerald (51), A Kelly for Glynn (60).

Arles Killeen – M Leigh; James Mahon, P McDonald, N O'Rourke; J Mulhare, S Julian, B O'Shea; J Enright, D Kingston; S O'Shea, D Brennan, D Julian; C Keightley, P Kingston, B McDonald. Subs: A Ryan for B McDonald (53), B O'Loughlin for Keightley (56), John Mahon for D Julian (58).

Ref – E Kinsella (Courtwood)

Irish Independent

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