Kilmacud survive late scare to nudge out wasteful 'Port'
Kilmacud Crokes 1-17 Portlaoise 3-8
If Portlaoise had been told in advance that they would score three goals and have a penalty chance to make it four late on, they would have turned up in Parnell Park confident that their bad record against Dublin opposition was about to end.
The goals and penalty opportunity materialised but it still wasn't enough to dislodge Kilmacud as they booked a place in the Leinster final for the first time since 2010.
They achieved it with a mixed performance, ranging from attacking excellence to defensive uncertainty, which came very close to fatally undermining them.
Indeed, it looked as if extra-time might be on agenda when Portlaoise were awarded a penalty on the hour mark.
A goal would have brought the sides level, but the Laois champions were denied by an excellent save from Kilmacud goalkeeper David Nestor, who diverted the ball out for a '45' off Craig Rogers' kick.
"I didn't actually see what it was awarded for. The ball had come up high and I got it and cleared so I was shocked to hear the whistle go. We just tried to set up and save it as best we could," said Nestor.
Did he know which side Rogers would aim for?
"I suppose at my age going left isn't really an option so I went to the right early. That was lucky but even if they scored it would have been a drawn game and we would have put the ball back on the tee and gone again. You don't deviate from the process," said Nestor.
His save was certainly a key factor, but when Portlaoise analyse the entire game they will find plenty other reasons why their challenge failed.
The main one was their lack of accuracy. They shot 12 wides - nine in the first half - and there were several other occasions too when miscued passes broke their rhythm
The Dublin champions were never led and took their lead out to five points at the end of an explosive first half which yielded two goals in the opening five minutes.
Kilmacud struck first when Dara Mullin steamed through a sloppy defence in the second minute, but Portlaoise countered three minutes when Gareth Dillon booted home a rebound.
Paul Cahillane scored Portlaoise's second goal in the 17th minute, but Kilmacud were generally the better side in a half which ended with them leading by 1-11 to 2-5.
Both sides scored three points in the third quarter before Portlaoise drew level in the 46th minute when Rogers fired home their third goal.
Kilmacud were facing a real test of character and their response was impressive as they scored three points over the closing 15 minutes, whereas Portlaoise drew a blank.
"The lads showed great character and composure. There was a bit of naivete there too but we're a very young side. This is the first run in Leinster for a lot of them.
"Portlaoise are very experienced. You could see that in how they played," said Kilmacud joint-manager Johnny Magee.
He was particularly concerned about how the men from Stillorgan were prone to losing possession, a failing which Portlaoise exploited to bag three goals.
"We were inviting trouble onto ourselves at times. When we moved the ball, we caused them problems but we didn't do it enough. It was a good learning experience - lads will come on from that," said Magee.
Mullin, Callum Pearson, the evergreen Pat Burke and Paul Mannion registered 1-13 between them, a fine haul for four lively attackers.
Mannion, who has been nursing a hamstring niggle of late, wasn't at the peak of his awesome powers but still presented the Portlaoise with a range of problems, both on the ball and in creating space for his colleagues to exploit.
Kilmacud have pace all over the pitch and while they might have made more of it, they did enough to keep Portlaoise at bay, albeit under extreme pressure at the end.
"That's the way football should be played. It might be winter football but there were still a total of 37 points scored and four goals. It was a credit to Portlaoise and Kilmacud to play that sort of open football," said Nestor.
It was a fair summation of an entertaining game, although one suspects that Kilmacud's preparation for the final against Longford champions Mullinalaghta will involve a lot of defensive drills after their previously tight security collapsed at various stages.
They will start as overwhelming favourites to beat the Longford champions, but have no intention of falling into an over-confidence trap.
"It's 15 v 15. We'll just plan as we've planned for every game, do our homework and go out and try and play the best we can," said Nestor.
Scorers - Kilmacud: D Mullin 1-2; P Mannion 0-5 (3fs); P Burke (1f), C Pearson 0-3 each; C Dyas, S Horan, C O'Connor, A McGowan 0-1 each. Portlaoise: P Cahillane 1-3 (1f); G Dillon, C Rogers 1-0 each; B McCormack, K Lillis, R Maher, C Boyle, B Glynn 0-1 each.
Kilmacud Crokes - D Nestor; L Flatman, A McGowan, C O'Sullivan; C O'Connor, C O'Shea, R McGowan; C Dias, C Casey; S Horan, S Cunningham, C Pearson; D Mullin, P Mannion, P Burke. Subs: A Jones for R McGowan (36), K Dyas for Horan (47), T Fox for Cunningham (54), R Ryan for O'Connor (62 b/c), S Williams for Mullin (62).
Portlaoise - G Brody; G Saunders, D Seale, C Finn; F Flanagan, C Healy, D Holland; C McEvoy, K Lillis; G Dillon, C Boyle, B Glynn; P Cahillane, B McCormack, R Maher. Subs: C Rogers for Maher (36), S Lawless for McCormack (46), A Rafter for Glynn (54), C Finn for Holland (58).
Ref - D Coldrick (Meath)