Longford Slashers blew a glorious opportunity of springing a surprise against Portlaoise in the Leinster Club SFC quarter-final Pearse Park, letting slip a commanding eight points lead in a fierce battle fought out in dreadful wet and windy conditions on Sunday last before eventually going down after extra-time.
Slashers played exceptionally well in the first half to really rattle the hot favourites Portlaoise and looked in a strong position when holding a fairly emphatic 3-3 to 0-6 advantage at the break, the goals coming from Mark Smith Martin Nevin and Niall Mulligan.
And things got even better for the Longford champions with Martin Nevin and Peter Foy firing over a point apiece in the early stages of the second half but they managed just one more score during the remainder of this highly entertaining encounter - Colin Smith converting a free in the 40th minute.
Portlaoise were very much the dominant force in the second half, with the prominent Brian McCormack leading the charge to rescue the situation, and it was his well-taken goal in the 43rd minute that threw last year’s beaten finalists a badly needed lifeline.
Three points followed from Craig Rogers, substitute keeper Graham Brody (landing a ‘45) and Paul Cahillane to leave the sides all square with 54 minutes gone on the clock and both teams had chances to snatch the winner in the tense and exciting closing stages, particularly Portlaoise.
But Slashers almost emerged victorious when Martin Nevin shot wide in the third minute of stoppage time when he could have elected to pass instead to the unmarked Martin Tarmey.
Denis Connerton’s side went on to kick three wides on the trot in the first half of extra-time and this proved to be very costly indeed as Portlaoise then hit the front with cracking points from substitute Adrian Kelly and chief marksman Craig Rogers who ended up with 0-6 to his credit.
Slashers got their first score in over 40 minutes (not good enough at this high level) when Colin Smith fired over a free with time running out, but another Portlaoise replacement Kevin Fitzpatrick (underlining the decisive much greater strength of their substitutes bench) then shot over the bar to clinch a very hard-earned victory for the visitors who are now at home to Moorefield in the semi-final on Sunday next.
There was one last chance for Slashers when they were awarded a close range free but Mark Smith’s attempt for a dramatic last gasp winning goal was blocked and his side were left to rue what might have been in a gallant bid to score a massive win in the Leinster Club Championship.
Portlaoise had to call on all their vast experience to come out on top in the end but they were the better side over the course of this gruelling game and showed a lot of character to survive when they looked dead and buried.
Inspired throughout this pulsating contest by their outstanding midfielder Michael Brady, Slashers certainly did the county proud in their quest for a big upset and their cause was not helped by some harsh decisions by Meath referee David Gough that went against them.
The goals they got in the first half was all of a high quality, the first from Mark Smith in the 14th minute that was set up by his brother Colin, and the direct ball also reaped rich reward when Peter Foy created the chances for Martin Nevin and Niall Mulligan to find the back of the Portlaoise net in the 25th and 26th minutes.
This was tremendous stuff from Slashers, with Mulligan also firing over a couple of brilliantly struck ‘45s in the extremely difficult conditions, while the other point in the first half came from Mark Smith - their opening score of the game in the 10th minute.
Young Slashers keeper Colm Farrell must be commended for making two fine point-blank saves in the first half but Portlaoise gradually awoke from their slumber to get their act together - outscoring the weary opposition by 1-9 to 0-4 during the remainder of this action packed game that gave the estimated 600 attendance great value for their admission money.
LONGFORD SLASHERS: Colm Farrell; Dominic Glennon, Barry Gilleran, Gareth Ghee; Peter Brady, Dermot Brady, Marc Diffley; Michael Brady, David Sheridan; Trevor Clendenning, Niall Mulligan (1-2, points from ‘45s), Martin Nevin (1-1); Mark Smith (1-1), Peter Foy (0-1), Colin Smith (0-2, frees).
Subs:- Philip Dobson for D Glennon (injured, 52 mins); Andrew Dalton for T Clendenning (56 mins); Martin Tarmey for D Sheridan (59 mins).
Extra-time: T Clendenning for P Dobson (6 mins).
PORTLAOISE: Michael Nolan (0-1, ‘45); Malachy McNulty, Paul Cotter, Brian Mulligan; Eoin Whelan, Cahir Healy, Tommy Fitzgerald; Conor Boyle (0-1), Kieran Lillis; Gareth Dillon, Brian McCormack (1-2), Brian Glynn; Paul Cahillane (0-2), Craig Rogers (0-6, two frees), Brian Smith.
Subs:- David Seale for E Whelan (half-time); Stuart Nerney for G Dillon (half-time); Graham Brody (0-1, ‘45) for M Nolan (injured, 49 mins); Kevin Fitzpatrick (0-1) for B Smith (52 mins); Adrian Kelly (0-1) for T Fitzgerald (56 mins). Extra-time: B Smith for B Glynn (13 mins).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).