McCormack puts Laois kingpins on right Rhode
Portlaoise 1-10 Rhode 0-10
A tense and dogged affair in O'Connor Park saw Portlaoise deservedly come out the right side and move on to a Leinster quarter-final with Moorefield on home soil in two weeks. While they may have deserved it, they were only just holding on at the finish.
A frantic climax saw Portlaoise lead by two points, both sides miss scores, a red card for Rhode's Brian Darby, and Rhode having a penalty appeal waved away.
Portlaoise manager Malachy McNulty wasn't surprised by the Rhode onslaught in the second half and was a nervous onlooker with that two-point lead until Gareth Dillon kicked his third point of the game in injury-time to make it a three-point margin in the end.
"That was a tough, tough game. Knowing Rhode, they are fantastic ambassadors when they come out of Offaly, a top side.
"That lead is always precarious. You are thinking 'here we go again', and there was a little drama at the end. All it takes is a ball into the square and someone to throw a boot to it. We held out and the boys stuck to their guns."
Despite having a goal harshly disallowed in the opening minute of the game, Portlaoise still had enough in the tank to withstand a second-half comeback from Rhode.
Portlaoise were impressive in the opening half and it was just as well as they slipped in the closing 30 minutes, only scoring two points - the first and the last of the half.
"Two points in a half of football, I don't care if it is winter or summer football, it won't be good enough the next day and it is something to work on," according to McNulty.
"I have no problem saying this, the oldest man on the pitch and the youngest man on the pitch had fantastic first halves.
"I am talking about Bruno (Brian McCormack), he was excellent and kept the forward line ticking over but Frank Flanagan was immense. After maybe two or three minutes settling in, he won six or seven balls in a row and for a big full-back to do that is exceptional."
They were full value for their five-point lead at the break and with McCormack pulling the strings up front, they opened up a 0-4 to 0-2 lead after 13 minutes with their direct running causing Rhode problems.
Niall McNamee was keeping Rhode in touch but Portlaoise hit the crucial score with six minutes left in the half with midfielder Ciaran McEvoy getting in behind the Rhode full-back line before coolly slotting past Ken Garry to make it 1-6 to 0-3.
McCormack tagged on another score but Rhode got a couple back before the break with Alan McNamee firing over in the 28th minute with the goal at his mercy, Portlaoise leading 1-8 to 0-6 at the break.
Rhode were a different animal in the second half but it was a slow burner as they dragged themselves back into the game.
Paul Cahillane got the opening score of the half but that was their last until injury time as Rhode piled on the pressure.
Niall Darby and Ciaran Heavey found their range before a free and an outstanding score from play from Niall McNamee left it a two-point game with six minutes of normal time to play.
With chances spurned at both ends and tempers flaring, Brian Darby was sent off for an off-the-ball incident with a couple of minutes to go.
Conor McNamee then looked to have been bundled over in front of goal but referee Barry Tiernan waved play on as Rhode's penalty appeals fell on deaf ears.
Dillon then grabbed his third point of the day to see the Laois men home by three points.
Rhode manager Paschal Kellaghan was none too happy with the display from the man in the middle but insisted that it was Portlaoise's day as he moves on to a coaching role with the Tipperary footballers for 2018.
"I have never seen anything like it and that is not sour grapes.
"That is not to take away from Portlaoise, they were the best team and best of luck to them in the next round.
"We showed plenty of character in the last half-hour but we were a little bit off in the first half, maybe we gave them too much respect.
"Five minutes into the second half, we got our act together and I thought we were by far the best team in the second half and played all the football.
"It is not about me today, it is about Rhode. It has been a privilege to be with these lads for the last two years. They died with their boots on and I didn't expect anything else."
Scorers - Portlaoise: P Cahillane (3f), B McCormack and G Dillon 0-3 each; C McEvoy 1-0, C Boyle 0-1. Rhode: N McNamee 0-5 (2f); N Darby 0-2 (2f); A McNamee, C Heavey and P McPadden (f) 0-1 each.
PORTLAOISE - M Nolan; C Finn, D Seale, F Flanagan; D Holland, K Lillis, B Mulligan; A Kelly, C McEvoy; G Dillon, C Boyle, B Carroll; P Cahillane, B McCormack, S Lawless. Subs: B Smyth for Lawless (18), C Rogers for Carroll (53), P Downey Mulligan (57).
RHODE - K Garry; J Kavanagh, S Sullivan, J McPadden; D Kavanagh, B Darby, N Darby; A McNamee, C McNamee; P McPadden, N McNamee, S Hannon; P Sullivan, R McNamee, A Sullivan. Subs: D Garry for P McPadden (37), C Heavey (42).
REF - Barry Tiernan (Dublin).