Portumna power to another title

THE fallout from their controversial meeting in the decider three years ago has finally been consigned to history after Portumna and Loughrea played out a game in Pearse Stadium yesterday that was relatively incident-free – apart from the issuing of one red card.

Not only did the AIB All-Ireland club champions reverse the result of the 2006 game, but gave an exhibition in the process with man-of-the-match Damien Hayes inspiring them with two early goals.

These goals came in the ninth and 13th minutes, after Joe Canning had converted a fifth-minute 20 metre free. It meant that the favourites had accumulated 3-2 before Loughrea scored their second point in the 16th minute. And, as losing manager Pádraic Duddy conceded, they were playing catch-up for much of the game after that, as Portumna coasted to a third consecutive victory to emulate the achievement of St Mary’s, Athenry in 2000.

Much of the speculation beforehand centred on the hope that a line would be drawn in the sand after the bad blood generated by incidents in their last clash, when a then 18-year-old Joe Canning suffered a controversial injury.

However, the positive approach of the players and largely strict control by the referee ensured the game only featured a handful of incidents.

Arising from one of these, Portumna had wing-forward Niall Hayes red-carded for striking 12 minutes from the end but a Loughrea defender escaped censure after doing exactly the same.

Joe Canning, who ended with 1-10 entirely from placed balls didn’t strike his penalty as expertly as normal but it still ended up in the back of the Loughrea net. But when the two goals quickly followed from Damien Hayes, Loughrea found themselves in a worsening position.

To give credit to Hayes, just like his third (which came a mere 17 seconds into the second half), his goals were brilliantly converted. The second was especially praiseworthy when he burst past several tackles before powering his way into scoring range.

It meant Portumna could now dictate the game at their own pace. Playing with as much composure and skill since winning the first of their five titles in 2003, they were able to create openings almost at will. With Hayes in such impressive form – and his brother Kevin doing marvellous work at centre-forward – it meant nothing special was demanded of Joe Canning.

In fact, while he handled the ball very early (making the opening for Kevin Hayes to score their opening point), the number of times he got clean possession was few enough. But, he did everything that was asked of him and, typically, his striking of the ball was faultless.

Loughrea, who were to depend heavily on the free-taking of minor star Neil Keary, had the encouragement of an 18th-minute goal from Johnny Maher, after Keary made the opening with a strong run down the centre. However, it offered them no more than temporary relief, with Portumna adding five points without reply after the margin had been reduced to three goals. At the break, it was 3-10 to 1-5.

With Andy Smith making the opening, Damien Hayes stretched their lead to 14 points immediately on the resumption to plunge Loughrea supporters into deeper despair. And, frustratingly, they missed several chances of goals against a Portumna defence where Eugene McEntee was very solid at full-back and Ollie Canning, as ever, so dependable in the corner.

The best of the Loughrea chances fell to Johnny Maher in the 40th minute, after Keary had a close-in shot blocked and the ball ran loose. But, he accidentally played it over the end line. It just about summed up their challenge on a day when Portumna showed that they will again be a major force in the All-Ireland series.

Scorers for Portumna: J. Canning 1-10 (1-8 frees, 0-2 ‘65’s); D. Hayes 3-3; M. Dolphin 1-1; K. Hayes 0-3; E. Lynch and A. Smith 0-1 each.

Loughrea: N. Keary 0-8 (0-7 frees); J. Maher 1-1; K. Colleran, J. O’Loughlin and E. Mahony 0-1 each.

PORTUMNA: I. Canning; A. O’Donnell, E. McEntee, O. Canning; G. Heagney, M. Ryan, P. Smith; E. Lynch, L. Smith (capt.); A. Smith, K. Hayes, N. Hayes; M. Dolphin, J. Canning, D. Hayes.

Subs: C. Ryan for P. Smith (56); D. Canning for Dolphin (inj, 56); J. Keane for I. Canning (59).

LOUGHREA: S. Morgan; E. O’Mahony, D. McClearn, D. Melia; J. Dooley, V. Maher, T. Regan (capt.); G. Keary, B. Mahony; J. O’Loughlin, J. Maher, J. Coen; K. Colleran, R. Regan, N. Keary.

Subs: E. Mahony for Melia (15); G. Glynn for Colleran and P. Hoban for E. Mahony (50).

Referee: Alan Kelly (Rahoon-Newcastle).

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