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Canning masterclass seals Portumna glory

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Portumna players Andrew Smith, left, and Leo Smith show their emotion after their team's victory over Birr in the final of the All-Ireland Club SHC at Croke Park

Portumna players Andrew Smith, left, and Leo Smith show their emotion after their team's victory over Birr in the final of the All-Ireland Club SHC at Croke Park

Portumna players Andrew Smith, left, and Leo Smith show their emotion after their team's victory over Birr in the final of the All-Ireland Club SHC at Croke Park

PORTUMNA'S pace was always going to cause serious problems for Birr but nobody could have anticipated the degree to which it would scorch the Offaly champions in yesterday's AIB All-Ireland Club senior hurling championship final at Croke Park.

Not that Portumna relied solely on sprinting their way to a second All-Ireland title in three seasons. They had power, poise and precision too and if that wasn't enough for a struggling Birr side to contend with they were also facing the phenomenon that is Joe Canning.

The strapping 19-year-old hit a total of 10 points, eight coming from placed balls, including a free from well over 100 metres out and a sideline which he cut over the bar with a delicious slice.

Birr have been one of the truly great club sides since the mid-1990s, during which they won four All-Ireland titles, but they looked very much a force of yesteryear against a Portumna side that probably had more to call on in reserve if the occasion demanded.

Birr were a few gears below their high-octane opponents and had a miserable day compounded by the dismissal of Brian Whelahan in stoppage time for an off-the-ball pull.

If it's to be Whelahan's final outing in Croke Park, it was a pity that it ended on such a sour note because his sportsmanship has always been exemplary throughout his long career.

Frustration got the better of him as time ran out on Birr's flagging effort although nobody would have quibbled if he had escaped with a yellow card.

Birr's approach to the game was based on the absolute imperative of not allowing Portumna develop their running game but the best intentions were blown away when faced with the reality that the Galway champions really are an awesome proposition in full flow.

For all that, Portumna started slowly, conceding a goal to Stephen Brown after just three minutes and a second to Paul O'Meara in the 10th minute which saw Birr race into a 2-1 to 0-2 lead.

It was the perfect start but it turned out to be no more than a mirage as Portumna won the final 50 minutes by 3-17 to 1-8. And it could have been more as Birr managed to save a Canning penalty in the 20th minute.

Still, Portumna finished the half leading by 1-11 to 2-4 and while they were facing the wind in the second half it wasn't significant enough to bother them. Andrew Smith scored Portumna's first goal in the 14th minute and whipped home a second just after half-time before Damien Hayes applied the final destruction order with their third l goal in the 50th minute.

Birr were chasing the game from afar in the second half although they will feel they would have given themselves a real lift had Gary Hanniffy's booted effort for goal not flown the wrong side of the post in the 34th minute.

Simon Whelahan fired a free to the net in the 52nd minute but it was never going to be an more than a token gesture of defiance and as Portumna counted down the clock, Canning stroked over two more points from frees.

Apart from the early scare it was all very routine for Portumna who had stars in every line but most especially in attack where Andrew Smith, Damien and Kevin Hayes and Joe Canning scored 3-18 between them.

Many inter-county defences would have struggled against them and certainly Birr were no match for them at any stage.

It now remains to be seen how many of the Portumna side slot into the Galway team this year, with most interest focussed on whether Joe Canning makes the long-awaited step up. If he does, it could be the catalyst Galway so badly need to advance to the next level.

Meanwhile, Birr's defeat ended a thoroughly depressing weekend for Offaly hurling, with the inter-county side having been hammered by Limerick on Sunday.

On the basis of yesterday's performance, the return of the Birr contingent won't bring about an appreciable improvement, certainly not to the same degree as used to be case in their better years. And therein lies a major problem for Offaly.

Scorers -- Portumna: J Canning 0-10 (6f, 1'65', 1 sideline), A Smith 2-2, D Hayes 1-3, K Hayes 0-3, L Smith 0-1. Birr: S Whelahan 1-7 (1-6f), S Brown, P O'Meara 1-0 each, Brian Whelahan, R Hanniffy 0-1 each.

Portumna -- I Canning; M Gill, E McEntee, O Canning; G Heagney, M Ryan, P Smith; L Smith, E Lynch; A Smith, K Hayes, N Hayes; D Hayes, J Canning, D Canning. Subs: A O'Donnell for P Smith (57), C Ryan for D Canning (59).

Birr -- B Mullins; JP O'Meara, N Claffey, M Verney; B Watkins, P Cleary, D Hayden; R Hanniffy, Barry Whelahan; G Hanniffy, Brian Whelahan, S Ryan; P O'Meara, S Whelahan, S Brown. Subs: M Dwane for Ryan (ht), P Molloy for P O'Meara (38), B Harding for Hayden (52)

Ref -- J Sexton (Cork)