Cahillane on cue as Portlaoise end Moorefield's reign
Portlaoise1-14 Moorefield 1-11
Now only defending All-Ireland champions Corofin remain in contention after Moorefield became the third of last season's club football semi-finalists to discover that the road to retaining titles is heavily landmined.
Slaughtneil (Derry) and Nemo Rangers (Cork) failed to hold on to their county crowns and while Moorefield achieved that in Kildare, their bid for a Leinster two-in-a-row ended at the quarter-final stage.
The painful memory of how they lost to Moorefield last year accompanied the Laois champions to Newbridge yesterday and, no doubt, remained with them during the more testing times of an entertaining encounter.
Moorefield staged a powerful late rally last year which nudged them to a one-point win, so the apprehension among Portlaoise supporters was palpable as they watched a seven-point interval lead reduced to three on four occasions in the second half.
Indeed, it looked as if extra-time might be required when Moorefield bore down on goal late in stoppage time. However, Graham Brody saved in a crowded goalmouth and carried the ball clear.
Moorefield's reign as Leinster champions had ended, while Portlaoise's ambitions soared after a thoroughly deserved win which booked a semi-final date with Kilmacud Crokes.
They laid the foundations of yesterday's success in the first half when they used the wind to drive at Moorefield with real intent.
"We were playing the Leinster champions so we wanted to hit them hard and notch up as many scores as possible," said Portlaoise manager Malachy McNulty.
They certainly did that, but they were helped enormously by Moorefield's sloppiness in defence.
Portlaoise's direct play and quick reactions to breaking ball caused regular outbreaks of panic in front of home side's goal and once the malaise spread to goalkeeper Thomas Corley, the Kildare champions were in serious trouble.
He made a number of handling mistakes, one of which led to Craig Rogers' 21st-minute goal, a break which reinforced a superiority that Portlaoise had already established.
By half-time it was 1-8 to 0-4 in their favour, leaving Moorefield with a massive challenge.
"We were very disappointed with the first-half performance. I don't know what it was down to. We were very sloppy on the ball. And, worst of all, our intensity and work-rate wasn't there," said Moorefield manager Ross Glavin.
He had begun repair work by replacing midfielder Daryl Flynn just before half-time and restarted the second period with Ian McDonnell in goal instead of Corley. He had also put it up to his players to do themselves justice in the second half.
"We said that if we're going to go out today, we're going to go out with a respectable second-half performance. I'm proud of how they played in the second half. We clawed it all the way back to a kick of a ball," he said.
They managed that for the first time four minutes after the re-start when, after their great warrior Ronan Sweeney kicked an inspirational point, Niall Hurley-Lynch pounced for a goal.
Now it was Portlaoise's turn to feel the pressure and, in fairness, their response was very impressive.
Top scorer Paul Cahillane (0-4 from play) and Brian McCormack kicked points which re-established a sizeable lead and while Moorefield pared it back to three points on three occasions later on, they were unable to complete the recovery.
Eanna O'Connor led the charge at a Portlaoise defence that mixed the good with the ordinary. Indeed, with a little more precision, Moorefield might well have tested Brody a whole lot more.
"There were probably three attacks where we had an overlap and we gave the ball away. Maybe we were over-anxious to narrow the lead to two points. There were certainly opportunities," said Glavin.
Portlaoise were more clinical in front of goal, with Cahillane and McCormack making the most of their opportunities, while Gareth Dillon's running game also troubled the Moorefield defence. Their workrate was better too.
"At this time of year it comes down to a real physical battle and a war of attrition," said McNulty. "We knew it would be won or lost in the middle third and the stats at half-time showed that we won 13 of the 19 breakdowns in the first half. We were edging it there and, for me, that's where games are won or lost."
Moorefield's failure to deal adequately with Portlaoise's direct deliveries into the full-forward line was also crucial.
"Our particular game plan all year was to try to move the ball as much as possible. We try to go forward instead of backwards, like we might have done in previous years," said McNulty.
He knows that further improvement will be required against Kilmacud Crokes, but that looks well within the capabilities of a squad that feel they are making up for lost time after last year's disappointment.
Scorers - Portlaoise: P Cahillane 0-7 (3f), C Rogers 1-2 (1f), B McCormack 0-2, K Lillis, R Maher, G Dillon 0-1 each.
Moorefield: E O'Connor 0-4 (1f), N Hurley-Lynch 1-1, A Tyrrell (2f), R Sweeney, E Heavey 0-2 each.
Portlaoise - G Brody; D Seale, Chris Finn, C Healy; F Flanagan, Colin Finn, D Hollan; C McEvoy, K Lillis; C Rogers, C Boyle, G Dillon; P Cahillane, B McCormack, R Maher Subs: B Glynn for Rogers (45), S Lawless for Maher (50)
Moorefield - T Corley; L Callaghan, L Healy, M Dempsey; K Murnaghan, A Durney, J Murray; D Flynn, A Masterson; C O'Connor, R Sweeney, E O'Connor; E Heavey, A Tyrrell, N Hurley-Lynch. Subs: I Meehan for Flynn (30+1), I McDonnell for Corley (ht), S Healy for Murnaghan (38), J Phillips for C O'Connor (57), M McDermott for Heavey (59), A Mullins for Hurley Lynch (62).
Ref - B Tiernan (Dublin)