It should have been such an easy game to call too, two teams who had the utmost respect for each other, who came to play. The referee though seemed determined to make his mark, and make it he did, ruined whatever possibility was there of this being a good spectacle.
The referee is there to help the game, to help the players, but for me, Barry Kelly was a hindrance, to the Mount Leinster Rangers players especially.
Another thing that annoyed me, all the noise at half-time. Surely the GAA can do better than that Hector Ó hEochagáin, roaring and shouting, with two fellas dressed in American Football outfits? What was that all about on the day when the clubs are supposed to take centre-stage in Croke Park?
Anyway, to the game. I met Sean Treacy beforehand, the man who coached Portumna to their first All-Ireland title back in 2006. He was confident they were going to win here and he was right to be. I take my hat off to them. For a club that hadn’t even won a county senior title 11 years ago, to now have four All-Ireland senior championships, to have played in five finals, that’s a fantastic record. And to have so many of those who were there when they won their first, that too was impressive.
We talk about Kilkenny in the last 14 years, and rightly so, they have won so much. But in their own way Portumna can be compared to the Cats. What Kilkenny are doing at county level, Portumna are doing at club level but with a far more limited number of players at their disposal.
I want to highlight a few of those players, starting with the butcher at the back, the one and only Eugene McEntee. Note though, Eugene is a butcher by trade only — he’s one hell of a good full-back, and a great servant to Portumna. Eoin Lynch too hit a lot of ball, but when you go to midfield and up front, the three main men for Portumna in all three of their previous All-Ireland wins were pivotal again yesterday. I’m talking of course about Joe and Ollie Canning and Damien Hayes. What did they get between them yesterday, 16 points? And of course I have to mention Kevin ‘Chunky’ Hayes as well, another old war-horse.
Worthy champions then, no doubt about that, and they’ve shown what can be achieved with a group of players who have all the right attributes — dedication, loyalty to each other and to the jersey. And great credit must also go to manager Frank Canning and his selectors, for a job well done.
To Mount Leinster Rangers, and whatever Portumna have achieved, I think in their own way the Carlow champions match them. All-Ireland club intermediate champions only two years ago — and that was a fantastic achievement for any club — to then go on and reach a senior final, winning a hard Leinster title along the way; I can only take my hat off to them.
And we saw the talent in the Carlow county champions yesterday. The Coady brothers, Richard, Edward, Paul and John — Richard especially, a fine hurler. Corner-forward Denis Murphy got a few fine points from placed balls and from play while centre-forward Edward Byrnes and full-back Garry Doyle also played well.
Mistakes though cost them dearly, trying to do things with the ball when they should just have hammered it into that full-forward line and see what happens. A pity it ends as it did for them but they can hold their heads high — there are a lot of very good teams who were sitting at home yesterday watching this on television.
Mount Leinster Rangers played their way to this final and won a lot of hearts along the way; it was great to see them do a lap of honour at the end and get a great round of applause from the crowd.
I don’t think though Barry Kelly will be getting any Christmas cards from south Carlow this year.