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Lillis wary of tougher tests for Portlaoiseafter rout of St Pat's

FORGET the Battle of Aughrim, this was the slaughter of the innocents.

A famous Wicklow football victory over Laois was once given that historic label, but it was the local champions St Patrick's who have become the most recent team to be decimated there.

They couldn't even land a single score by half-time (2-6 to 0-0); a missed free by Austin O'Malley their only scoring chance before the break.

The former Mayo senior finally opened their scoring immediately after the restart and when Tommy Kelly then hit a shot off the crossbar, it looked like the Wicklow town outfit might just do a Lazarus.

But an unanswered five-point reply from the visitors was the final nail in St Pat's coffin, and were it not for goalkeeper Colm Byrne, who made two excellent second-half saves, it could have been even worse.

Beaten by St Brigid's in an extra-time semi-final last year, the bookies had already installed Portlaoise as Leinster favourites before throw-in and will surely be taking a slash hook to their odds after this near flawless display.

Led by former county star Brian McCormack and a dozen players with senior inter-county experience -- including Tipperary's Hugh Coghlan -- Portlaoise played the sort of free-flowing 'total football' that brought Donegal an All-Ireland title this year.

Their first goal, after 14 minutes, was a cracker from wing-back Conor Boyle. And it was corner-back Tom Fitzgerald who had the initial shot blocked when McCormack latched onto the rebound to score their second.

With defenders seamlessly overlapping, a clever rotating sweeper system, selfless defending, precision passing and great urgency and focus, the six-in-a-row Laois champions gave an awesome display. On the rare occasions when the route-one ball into 'Bruno' (McCormack) failed, they had the intelligence to play it tighter and repeatedly opened things up with clever diagonal balls.

Paul Cahillane, Craig Rodgers, county defenders Cahir Healy and Boyle all excelled. Coghlan also put in an excellent shift, but it was his midfield partner Adrian Kelly who epitomised just how well Portlaoise are coached, repeatedly splitting the defence with inch-perfect passes.

Poor St Patrick's, who caused such a sensation by knocking out Eire Og, were helpless, despite the tireless efforts of their half-back line and full-forward O'Malley.

Portlaoise co-manager Mick Lillis kindly suggested that their extra-time victory over the Carlow champs, in very heavy conditions, had come at a price. St Patrick's manager, Gail Dunne, agreed but also felt they were simply out-classed.

"We came through Wicklow winning tough, tight matches and the 80 minutes against Eire Og was a big one and obviously the lads didn't recover from that," said Dunne. "But they're a class outfit, I think they're going to be there on St Patrick's Day."

Many neutrals among the small crowd concurred, but Lillis was understandably circumspect.

"We had worked on getting a good start because Aughrim has a notorious name," he said. "We have a team of good athletes but most teams are athletic nowadays and play the same style, so then it comes down to skills.

"It certainly wasn't the game we expected and we'll take it but there will be bigger games ahead, starting with two weeks' time," he cautioned ahead of their semi-final clash against Longford champions Emmet Og.

Scorers -- Portlaoise: B McCormack, C Boyle 1-2 each, E Whelan 1-0, B Fitzgerald 0-4 (2f), B Glynn, P Cahillane 0-2 each, A Kelly, C Rogers, S Nerney 0-1 each. St Patrick's: A O'Malley 0-3, M Byrne 0-1 (1f).

Portlaoise -- M Nolan; T Fitzgerald, B Mulligan (Capt), C Healy; K Fitzpatrick, K Lillis, C Boyle; A Kelly, H Coghlan; C Rodgers, B Fitzgerald, B Glynn; P Cahillane, B McCormack, B Smith. Subs: E Whelan for Smith (h-t), B Gaynor for Rogers (49), J Delaney for Fitzgerald (50), L McGovern for Coghlan (52), S Nerney for Boyle (55).

St Patrick's -- C Byrne; S Murley, P Higgins, R Connolly; P McWalter, C Doyle, D Healy; D McEvoy, D Fitzgerald; M Byrne, P Earls, R Murphy; T Kelly, A O'Malley, D O'Sullivan (capt). Subs: S Duffy for Fitzgerald (40), N Kennedy for Murphy (44), A Jameson for Doyle (45), S Alexander for C Byrne (55), M Donoghue for O'Sullivan (59).

Ref -- D Gough (Meath).

Irish Independent