Classy Canning fires Portumna to new heights

Portumna 2-8 Newtownshandrum 1-6

In such circumstances, then, despite the fact that these were two quality teams, this was never going to be the classic so widely predicted.

And it wasn't. In fact, and fittingly, given the day that was in it, it was a game won ultimately by the team that was most effective in spoiling the other, and that was Portumna.

Newtown's game is all about pressing the opposition when possession is lost and when possession is won, creating the openings, creating the space.

Yesterday, they met a team that denied them on every front.

"The first things you learn when you start hurling, at underage, are the basics," said Portumna coach/trainer Sean Treacy. "Hit the ball left and right on the ground, then hooking, blocking. If a guy is doing that from six, seven years of age, it stays with him all his life. Some days the ball just doesn't run for you, but on days like that, if you're not hitting the ball, you have to be hooking, blocking, making a general nuisance of yourself. The boys got into the game right in the second half, gave 100%, and that's what turned the game in our favour. Restricting Newtown to just three points in the second half, only one of those from play, that's a savage performance from our 15 players."

Playing with the dubious aid of that bone-chilling wind, Portumna got the perfect start with a goal in the third minute from 17-year-old Joe Canning. It was superbly taken, with a lovely shimmy, giving him just enough room to get in the strike. Five minutes later they had a second with the ball passed into a vacant net by full-forward Niall Hayes after a Canning pass.

A minute later after Canning drilled a free from wide left, it was 2-1 to 0-0 and looking dire for Newtownshandrum. Credit to them, however, they battled their way back, and two fine points from corner forward Cathal Naughton had them on the scoreboard. Minutes later a magnificent goal in the 21st minute by midfielder Jerry O'Connor, after set-up work by Naughton and John O'Connor, had them in the game three points behind (2-3 to 1-3) at the break and the wind at their backs.

"I don't know if I was worried," said Treacy, "but we could certainly have done a bit better than we did. We regrouped, called a spade a spade; I reckoned only about eight of our guys were playing up to scratch, I knew we had to up our game at least another 50%."

Upping their game meant more defence, more hassling, more harassing, because that's what you need to do against this hard-running Newtown side. That's what Portumna did, limiting the 2004 champions to just three points in the second half, just six shots on goal. That won the game.

Newtown too were playing their own pressure game, but there was a crucial difference. Discipline. It was absent from Newtown yesterday, decidedly absent, and it cost them. So many times Pat Mulcahy has been the defensive lynchpin of this side; yesterday, he was in trouble, not with his opponent, but with the referee. His dismissal on 57 minutes for two yellow cards was symptomatic of what was happening. When one of your big players is frustrated, and showing it, so is the team.

Overall then, a disappointing final, especially for Newtown, because this was not their best, not even close. The big game they had been threatening since the start of this campaign never materialised and Portumna were on top from the beginning. The

Newtown forwards especially, disappointed, only Cathal Naughton and Ben O'Connor catching the eye, with Donal Mulcahy occasionally winning good possession. As for Portumna, they are undeniably the best club team in the land. Their defence, with Ollie Canning sweeping magnificently, was totally dominant, midfielders Leo Smith and Eoin Lynch worked like Trojans, their half-forward line was more an extra line of defence, while inside, 2-7 from 2-8, that says it all. Well, nearly all. Remember the name Joe Canning. This kid is pure genius.

Scorers for Portumna: J. Canning 1-6 (0-6 frees); N. Hayes 1-0; D. Hayes, L. Smith, 0-1 each.

Scorers for Newtownshandrum: B. O'Connor 0-4 (0-3 frees); J. O'Connor 1-0; C. Naughton 0-2.

PORTUMNA: I. Canning; M. Gill, E. McEntee, O. Canning; G. Heagney, M. Ryan, A. O'Donnell; L. Smith, E. Lynch; D. Canning, K. Hayes, A. Smith; D. Hayes, N. Hayes, J. Canning.

NEWTOWNSHANDRUM: P. Morrissey; M. Farrell, B. Mulcahy (c), D. Gleeson; AT O'Brien, P. Mulcahy, P. Noonan; JP King, Jerry O'Connor; D. Mulcahy, B. O'Connor, John O'Connor; W. O'Mahony, J. Bowles, C. Naughton.

Referee: B. Gavin (Offaly).

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