O'Connor underlines his 'county' class to make Moorefield title favourites
Moorefield 1-9 Portlaoise 0-11
After a day of odds-shattering upheaval in the race for Leinster club football glory, Moorefield have emerged as the new favourites.
Their back-from-the-brink victory over Portlaoise, coupled with Rathnew's ambush of St Vincent's, has produced a provincial semi-final pairing that Mystic Peig could scarcely have envisioned before throw-in.
Another road trip beckons on November 26 but, for all the renewed talk of 'Fortress Aughrim' after yesterday's shock turn of events, the Kildare champions won't travel in trepidation either.
Not after toppling Portlaoise in their own back yard and doing it in classic never-say-die style.
As their manager Ross Glavin explained afterwards: "We said earlier on today, we started off 2017 as one of 16 teams that had a chance of winning a Kildare county championship.
"By 5pm today we wanted to be one of 10 teams left in Ireland… so unless there was any other draws in the other provinces, there'll be 10 teams left and we're one of those."
And yet, deep into the final quarter at O'Moore Park, you would never have guessed that Moorefield - 18/1 for Leinster beforehand - would finish the day as the bookmakers' new 6/4 favourites.
They trailed by three points. The Laois kingpins had managed just 0-2 after the interval, as the quality dipped in tandem with a rising temperature gauge … but this was still one more than Moorefield, who had been scoreless since Cian O'Connor's 35th minute point.
But then two pivotal moments turned this provincial quarter-final on its head.
First, Portlaoise were reduced to 14 men after veteran sub Craig Rogers, carrying a yellow since first-half injury-time, picked up his second booking on 53 minutes.
Worse was to follow for the hosts: two minutes later they coughed up possession in their half-back line. Within seconds, the ball was worked to the very man Moorefield would have craved most in this scenario: Eanna O'Connor.
The son of former Kerry manager Jack had been the game's standout player; even in defeat he would have warranted man of the match for his first-half menace close to goal (yielding 0-5, three from play) and for his link play further out in the second.
Now he ensured he was the man of the moment too. O'Connor took the ball at pace as he bore down on goal; briefly it appeared he may have carried too far left, but he managed to squeeze home a low, angled shot to the town end net. Parity, at 1-8 to 0-11.
Eight scoreless minutes followed and you wondered if either side would have the nerve to land a winner and avoid extra-time.
Portlaoise skipper Conor Boyle was brilliantly blocked down by his counterpart, James Murray.
"He fired every single ounce of his body at that ball," enthused Glavin, claiming this one incident "personified" Moorefield's 2017 attitude.
In the same attack Brian McCormack fired wide. Then, over three minutes into stoppage time, the hitherto scoreless Niall Hurley-Lynch cut in from the left flank to arc over the winning point.
Portlaoise engineered one last chance but Paul Cahillane's high-pressure 14-metre free, albeit from a tight angle, veered wide of the near post.
"Moorefield! Moorefield!" echoed the main stand after David Coldrick called time on the next kickout.
Their team's defiance was nothing new: they had already conquered Kildare against the numerical odds, holding out against Celbridge with 13 men for the last 40 minutes and that determined spirit was in plentiful supply again.
Now Glavin has the enviable headache of welcoming back suspended duo Daryl Flynn and David Whyte for the semi-final against Rathnew - and wondering how to accommodate them.
"The group have shown that resilience all year," their manager noted. "We certainly make it exciting for the neutral spectator but, again, it came down to attitude, and that team spirit was very evident again today."
For much of the first half, despite falling into early 0-3 to 0-1 arrears, they also played it smarter. Four times they edged one point ahead, O'Connor showcasing his ability to turn and shoot off either foot.
But then Portlaoise finished the half with a three-point flourish, via Brian Mulligan, Scott Lawless and goalkeeper Graham Brody with his second '45'.
That left it 0-9 to 0-7 at the midpoint. Tensions rose during the third quarter, Coldrick brandishing several yellows for a couple of wrestling bouts.
Brody abandoned his netminding sentry more than once, venturing as far as Moorefield's 65m line on one occasion. But when Cahillane (brilliantly off his weaker right) and a Lawless free extended Portlaoise's lead to three, they looked poised.
Instead, to the delight of his watching dad and also his manager, O'Connor tore up the script. This adopted Lilywhite was a Kildare panellist in 2016; what odds on a return for the classy sharpshooter in 2018?
"Eanna is a quality footballer," Glavin stressed of the Kerry native. "I've been saying it to everyone all year. Eanna is a county footballer. He can do it all; he can hit dead balls from anywhere and he's a proper baller. He can play inside, he can play outside... we're privileged to have him within our club."
SCORERS - Moorefield: E O'Connor 1-5 (0-2fs), A Masterson, E Heavey, C O'Connor, N Hurley Lynch 0-1 each. Portlaoise: S Lawless 0-3 (1f), G Brody (2 '45s), P Cahillane 0-2 each, D Holland, B McCormack, C Boyle, B Mulligan 0-1 each.
PORTLAOISE - G Brody; C Finn, F Flanagan, D Holland; B Mulligan, K Lillis, D Seale; C Boyle, C McEvoy; G Dillon, B Carroll, B Smyth; S Lawless, B McCormack, P Cahillane. Subs: C Rogers for Smyth (inj 23), P Downey for Mulligan (51), Smith for Lawless (55).
MOOREFIELD - T Kinsella; L Callaghan, L Healy, S Dempsey; S Healy, J Murray, M Dempsey; C O'Connor, A Masterson; K Murnaghan, E Heavey, R Sweeney; A Tyrrell, N Hurley-Lynch, E O'Connor. Subs: I Meehan for S Dempsey (27), A Mullins for Tyrrell (inj 42), M Murray for Sweeney (46), M McDermott for Heavey (54).
REF - D Coldrick (Meath).