PORTUMNA are now just 60 minutes from completing an historic three-peat of All-Ireland club titles after this win in the capital yesterday afternoon.
No side has managed to claim three successive club titles, in either code, but the current Galway champions are now within touching distance of a feat which eluded Sarsfields, Athenry and Birr in recent years.
It says everything about this remarkable group of players that they played below their best here yet still defeated a capable and committed Dunloy side by double figures.
Make no mistake, this was a mission fraught with danger.
Dunloy had competed in nine previous All-Ireland semi-finals and won four. Among the scalps hanging from their pelt since a first Ulster title in 1991 are Athenry, Mount Sion and even Portumna, who were beaten by three points at this stage in Clones six years ago. Sarsfields had been taken to a replay on a fifth occasion and no side had ever beaten them by a double-figure margin. Until now, that is, and yet even manager Johnny Kelly accepted that his side had not exactly played the game of their lives.
Far from it.
Though Dunloy only held the lead once – for about 10 seconds inside the first minute – they proved stubborn opposition and it was only with a late burst for the line that Portumna finally shook them off. That said, it could easily have been decided earlier.
Portumna may have been rusty after months of inactivity but they showed few signs of that as the underdogs’ defence found themselves wedged between a rock and a hard place.
Commit a foul on a Portumna attacker anywhere in their own half and Joe Canning punished them – the other option was to allow the champions picked off scores from all sorts of angles and distances from open play.
Damien Hayes, Kevin Hayes and Peter Smith all dissected the posts from various ranges and, with Joe Canning his metronomic self from placed balls, the collateral damage was mounting.
It could have been worse, too.
The LIT student had one free tipped over the crossbar by a defender while a Damien Hayes zinger suffered the same fate before the goal that Dunloy worked so hard to avoid finally came 20 minutes in.
Leo Smith launched a high ball in towards Big Joe and his hand pass gave Ciaran Ryan – in for the suspended Niall Hayes – enough time and space to kick the sliotar beyond Gareth McGhee and into the rigging.
Portumna seemed to fall into something of a funk for a spell after that. Even Joe Canning succumbed to it with a handful of missed frees.
By the break, they still led by 1-10 to 0-5 but the contest was far from over. The third quarter was Dunloy’s best. Four scores in a row left only five points between them and the temperature, by then, was rising.
Minor skirmishes began to flicker and the crowd found its voice. For the first time, Dunloy began to get the better of the midfield exchanges and they sent a barrage of ball in on the Portumna defence.
A goal at that point would have made for an interesting closing spell but Portumna never buckled or bent and their no-fuss defending was epitomised by a casual back pass by Ollie Canning under pressure at one point.
Inevitably, Joe Canning finally tempered the fires. The full-forward had stood up to some uncompromising defending but the next pair of scores were two of his trademark frees.
One was even launched from his own half. With that, the back of the revolution had been broken and Portumna cantered along from there to the finish, more or less at their leisure.
The game was long over by the time Joe Canning scored his side’s second goal two minutes from time. Like so many in the past, it was an exocet of a free that escaped a posse of flailing hurleys on its way into the net.
Awaiting them in the final will be a Ballyhale Shamrocks still bristling after the pair’s semi-final meeting in Thurles 12 months ago when the Leinster side shipped five goals.
Bring it on.
Scorers for Dunloy: P Shiels 0-4f, S Dowds 0-2f, K McKeague 0-2, G O’Kane 0-1, L Richmond 0-1, P Doherty 0-1, P Richmond 0-1.
Scorers for Portumna: J Canning 1-8 (0-8f), C Ryan 1-1, A Smith 0-3, K Hayes 0-3, D Hayes 0-2, P Smith 0-1.
DUNLOY: G McGee; M McClements, J McKeague, Cathaior Cunning; K Molloy, P Shiels, K McKeague; P Shivers, Colum Cunning; G O’Kane, L Richmond, Conor Cumming; P Doherty, P Richmond, S Dowds.
Subs: A Elliott for Dowd 36, D Kelly for Doherty 45, M Molloy for Shivers 54.
PORTUMNA: I Canning; A O’Donnell, E McEntee, O Canning; G Heagney, M Ryan, P Smith; L Smith, E Lynch; C Ryan, K Hayes, A Smith; D Hayes, J Canning, M Dolphin.
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved