While Killoe Young Emmets failed in their quest to become the first club from Longford to reach the Leinster Club Senior Football Final, the courageous county champions really put it up to the red-hot favourites Portlaoise in a very brave bid to spring a shock in the extremely difficult wet conditions at O’Moore Park on Sunday last.
And it might have been a different story had Mark Hughes managed to score a third goal for the underdogs approaching the midway point in the second half. A wonderful pass from Michael Quinn put Hughes clean through but he was denied by the alert opposing keeper Michael Nolan who produced a crucial point-blank save to keep his net intact and the danger was eventually cleared.
That was a very lucky escape for Portlaoise at a stage when the sides were all square (1-7 to 2-4) and while the physically stronger home side were on top from there until the final whistle to emerge victorious by three points, the large contingent of Killoe supporters were furious with some of the harsh decisions made by Meath referee Cormac Reilly in the final quarter of this very exciting encounter.
A dubious free awarded to Portlaoise in the 45th minute led to the lead point which was converted by Barry Fitzgerald and his side then kicked three wides in a row before Mark Hughes, always a threat at full-forward for Killoe, was penalised for overplaying the ball when he appeared to be fouled in the 51st minute.
Exceptional Portlaoise defender Cahir Healy then surged forward moments later to land a fine point and while Daniel Mimnagh shot over the bar in the 54th minute to leave just the minimum of margins separating the sides (1-9 to 2-5) that proved to be Killoe’s last score as their vastly experienced opponents finished the stronger.
Having said that, Portlaoise were awarded another handy free in the 56th minute with Barry Fitzgerald kicking a vital point and almost immediately Brian McCormack fired over the final score of the game to clinch a Leinster Final showdown against the Dublin champions Ballymun Kickhams on Sunday December 9th.
Once again, the so resilient braveheart Killoe defence left almost every ounce of their energy out on the stamina sapping pitch in closing down the Portlaoise attack with Michael Quinn, Padraig McCormack, Joe McCormack and Darragh Bennett particularly prominent under a lot of pressure.
But it proved to be a major struggle at centrefield for Young Emmets where the youthful pairing of Paddy Thompson and Simon Kieran were unable to make the desired impact against the powerful Portlaoise partnership of Tipperary footballer Hugh Coghlan and the equally effective imposing figure of Adrian Kelly who were most impressive in paving the foundations for the expected home win.
As a result, Portlaoise enjoyed most of the possession but were hard pressed to convert their superiority into scores in the face of fierce resistance from the terrific Killoe backs. The six-in-a-row Laois champions were guilty of kicking nine wides as compared to just three for Young Emmets and few among the attendance could argue with the fact that the best team won.
Due to a clash of colours, Killoe wore the Longford jersies and they got a rousing reception when they took to the pitch with their enthusiastic supporters (boosted by GAA followers from other clubs in the county) outnumbering the Portlaoise fans by around 4 to 1 in making it feel like a home match for the Longford champions who done the county so proud on their path to the Leinster Club semi-final.
But Killoe were slow to settle and found themselves 0-3 to 0-0 behind as the early Portlaoise dominance yielded points from Paul Cahillane (free), Barry Fitzgerald (free) and Brian Glynn and it could have been even worse for the nervous visitors as their opponents hit the post.
A couple of vital interceptions were made by Michael Quinn and Shane Dowd as Portlaoise tried to engineer a goal chance but it was Killoe who found the back of the net in virtually their first serious attack in the 17th minute when Denis McGoldrick hit the target from close range after receiving the ball from Mark Hughes.
That was a real sickening blow for Portlaoise but they soon recovered to regain the upper hand and after a great point from wing back Conor Boyle in the 21st minute, further scores quickly followed from Brian McCormack and Adrian Kelly.
Killoe showed a lot of character to close the gap with a brace of well-taken scores from Ronan McGoldrick in the 25th and 27th minutes and ended up just a solitary point behind at the break (0-6 to 1-2) which was a great position to be in considering that Portlaoise had much the better of the exchanges in the first half.
Young Emmets carried that momentum into the second half and just 30 seconds were gone on the changeover when Mark Hughes shot over the bar to leave the sides all square. Four minutes later Killoe hit the front for the first time from a free converted by Sean McCormack, his only score, but he was very much a marked man and the wet conditions certainly did not suit the Longford sharpshooter.
Michael Quinn then had a decent opportunity to extend the Killoe advantage but he shot straight into the arms of the opposing keeper and from that Portlaoise launched an immediate counter-attack which ended up yielding a soft goal from corner-forward Brian Smith after Young Emmets defender Padraig McCormack suffered the misfortune of losing his footing as the ball slipped from his grasp.
But Killoe were thrown a lifeline in the 41st minute when Mark Hughes capitalised on a costly mistake by a Portlaoise defender to race through unchallenged before delivering the perfect pass into Simon Kiernan who was left with the simple task of flicking the ball into the empty net to leave his side leading by the minimum of margins, 2-4 to 1-6.
But Portlaoise were able to call on all their great experience at the highest level in refusing to be rattled and equalised immediately with a point from Adrian Kelly on their way to outscoring Killoe 0-5 to 0-1 during the remainder of this most entertaining semi-final clash that was another boost for Longford football despite the disappointing defeat for the worthy county champions.
PORTLAOISE: Michael Nolan; Thomas Fitzgerald, Brian Mulligan, Cahir Healy (0-1); Kevin Fitzpatrick, Kieran Lillis, Conor Boyle (0-1); Adrian Kelly (0-2), Hugh Coghlan; Craig Rogers, Barry Fitzgerald (0-3, all frees), Brian Glynn (0-1); Paul Cahillane (0-1, free), Brian McCormack (0-2), Brian Smith (1-0).
Sub:- Stuart Nerney for C Boyle (56 mins).
KILLOE YOUNG EMMETS: Cillian Burns; Darragh Bennett, Padraig McCormack, Daniel Keogh; Shane Dowd, Joe McCormack, Michael Quinn; Paddy Thompson, Simon Kiernan (1-0); Daniel Mimnagh (0-1), Ronan McGoldrick (0-2), Eugene Clarke; Denis McGoldrick (1-0), Mark Hughes (0-1), Sean McCormack (0-1, free).
Subs:- Ronan Keogh for P Thompson (54 mins); Paddy Hughes for D McGoldrick (56 mins).
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).