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All-Ireland champs fall foul of Loughrea miracle in fiery final

Loughrea 1-13 Portumna 0-15 Galway SHC Final FEW people saw it happening beforehand. Fewer still at half-time.

But against all odds and completely against the flow of a fractious first half, Loughrea summoned up a storming last quarter to dethrone the reigning All-Ireland club champions, Portumna, in Salthill yesterday.

It was only Loughrea's second Galway SHC title and their first since 1941, so little wonder it took almost 15 minutes before captain Damien McClearn could make his way to the Pearse Stadium podium.

Given what had gone before, their comeback bordered on the miraculous. Loughrea trailed by eight having managed a miserly two points in a first half ruined by constant niggle and myriad hold-ups.

Yet from the 49th minute on, they were a team transformed beyond recognition. In a compelling last quarter, the underdogs rifled over nine points and Portumna could only muster two in reply.

Whether the holders were guilty of complacency is a moot point; they were certainly shellshocked by Loughrea's barnstorming finish.

Four minutes of injury time had been signalled, but we had lapsed well beyond that point when Michael Haverty - an inter-county referee doubling as an influential Loughrea sub here - drew a free off All-Star defender Ollie Canning.

The prone Canning was a picture of frustration when Michael Conway signalled a free in, and with good reason: John Maher's free-taking had been flawless and he duly sent over his seventh score, with six minutes and 15 seconds of injury time played. Conway allowed a few more seconds but Portumna were unable to conjure up a last-gasp equaliser.

On this evidence, Loughrea don't look like All-Ireland champions-in-the-making but that won't bother the winners. In two of the last three finals they had lost to Portumna, making victory all the sweeter.

The two most famous Canning siblings will rue this setback more than most. Ollie Canning had given a masterclass in corner-back play for almost 50 minutes, only to leak three points in that frantic finale through a misdirected clearance straight to Brian Mahony and two frees called for fouls on Haverty.

Joe Canning's angst will focus on a late missed free, three minutes into injury time with the sides level. It was a testing effort - 55 yards out near the right touchline - but well within range for the 18-year-old prodigy, who may also wonder how he didn't earn another free when his jersey was clearly pulled at the height of Loughrea's comeback. Earlier, the first half was virtually devoid of coherent hurling but the holders still looked a class above. After last year's county final scorefest, Loughrea were clearly intent on nullifying Portumna's big name stars in attack.

Yet beyond that, it was hard to fathom any forward plan of their own. They only managed two pointed frees, courtesy of Maher and John O'Loughlin. Three of their backs were also booked during a first half marred by illegal hits on and off the ball.

No one was sent off, though; more amazing still, only three minutes of stoppage time were signalled and the half finished with players squaring up and two mentors jostling as they came off the pitch.

Portumna initially made poor use of the wind but then hit the last six points of the half to lead by 0-10 to 0-2, the penultimate point coming after a sublime flick-up by the previously subdued Damien Hayes. Loughrea finally got motoring on the resumption, spurred on by a 35th minute goal when Portumna 'keeper Ivan Canning (perhaps unnerved by the sun) failed to deal with a dropping ball from O'Loughlin, allowing Enda Coen to bundle the ball home.

A stunning touchline point by O'Loughlin, plus a Maher free, cut the deficit to three only for Portumna to counter with the next three points via Niall and Kevin Hayes and a Canning free.

From somewhere, though, Loughrea found another gear. Seven points flowed in a remarkable ten-minute spell and, incredibly, they led for the first time after 59 minutes.

Kevin Hayes duly equalised; Maher responded with a free; then Portumna sub Matt Ryan won the next puck-out to level again. A draw beckoned, until man of the match Maher delivered one last twist to a script few had predicted.

SCORERS - Loughrea: J Maher 0-7f, E Coen 1-1, J O'Loughlin 0-3 (1f), B Mahony, K Colleran 0-1 each. Portumna: J Canning 0-7 (6f, 1 '65), K Hayes 0-3, D Canning, A Smith (f), D Hayes, N Hayes, M Ryan 0-1

LOUGHREA - N Murray; T Regan, D McClearn, D Melia; B Mahony, G Kennedy, J Dooley; G Keary, R Regan; V Maher, J Maher, B Dooley; E Coen, J O'Loughlin, K Colleran. Subs: M Haverty for B Dooley (46), K Daniels for Coen (inj 63).

PORTUMNA - I Canning; M Gill, E McEntee, O Canning; G Heagney, M Ryan, A O'Donnell; L Smith, E Lynch; D Canning, N Hayes, A Smith; D Hayes, K Hayes, J Canning. Subs: M Ryan for D Canning (54).

REF - M Conway.