Éire Óg blitz 13-man Portlaoise to qualify for first Leinster club final since 1998
CARLOW champions Éire Óg are through to their first Leinster club football final since 1998 after they overran Portlaoise – who finished with 13 men — in O’Moore Park.
The victory represents a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes — in last year’s provincial semi-final against Longford’s Mullinalaghta they lost by 18 points. But they have a rich tradition in the competition, winning five titles in seven seasons in the 1980s. Éire Óg grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck straight from the throw-in with Christopher Blake taking advantage of a defensive blunder to score a spectacular goal after 33 seconds, while Ross Dunphy followed up immediately with a point.
They continued to dictate the exchanges and were 1-3 to 0-1 ahead after 16 minutes even though Blake had missed two frees.
Portlaoise midfielder Kieran Lillis — who was fortunate not to pick up a second yellow card in the 14th minute — kick-started their revival with a brilliant left-footed goal ten minutes before the break.
Their most influential player in the first half, however, was 39-year-old Brian ‘Bruno’ McCormack who tormented the Éire Óg defence. Apart from scoring their first point he was involved in four more of their scores — including the goal.
Portlaoise took the lead for the first time in the 24th minute before ’keeper Graham Brody brilliantly saved a penalty from Cormac Mullins, though an injury-time point from former Dublin minor Colm Hulton left the sides level (1-5 each) after an enthralling first half.
Éire Óg hit the ground running again in the second half, outscoring Portlaoise 5-1 in the third quarter with half-time sub Noel Quinlan, son of former Carlow dual ace Willie, taking over free-taking duties and converting three placed balls.
At the other end Portlaoise kicked three wides and found it increasingly difficult to make much headway. Worst was to follow when McCormack missed a straight-forward free and then 90 seconds later they were reduced to 14 men when Lillis picked up a second yellow.
Éire Óg were content to pack their defence and protect their lead and moved five points clear in the 58th minute with a point from Darragh O’Brien — son of Carlow football manager Turlough. As Portlaoise pressed forward and goalkeeper Graham Brody joined the attack, they were caught on the counter-attack and Ross Dunphy finished to an empty net after a brilliant passing movement.
And to compound their tale of woe they were reduced to 13 men in injury time when Conor Boyle got a red card.
Scorers – Éire Óg: C Blake 1-4 (1f), R Dunphy 1-1 N Quinlan 0-3 (3f), J Lowry, C Hulton, D O’Brien 0-1 each.
Portlaoise: K Lillis 1-1, B McCormack 0-2 (1f), B Carroll, C Boyle, G Dillon 0-1 each.
Éire Óg: R Keating; J Lowry, M Fitzgerald, B Kavanagh; R Mahon, M Furey, P McElligott; S Gannon, E Ruth; R Dunphy, J Morrissey, C Hulton; C Blake, D O’Brien, C Mullins. Subs: N Quinlan for Mullins (ht), D Hayden for Hulton (52), R Denieffe for O’Brien (60 +1), K Chatten for Mahon (60 + 3).
Portlaoise: G Brody; D Seale, F Flanagan, G Saunders; C Finn, D Holland, P Downey; K Lillis, C McEvoy; B Glynn, C Boyle, G Dillon; B McCormack, B Carroll, R Maher. Subs: D Larkin for Downey (ht), C Finn for Holland (43), C Rogers for Maher (48), R McEvoy for Flanagan (55).
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford)
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