‘The Town’, as they sing in these parts, goes marching on.
If the result was predicted then the manner of it certainly wasn’t.
Though they were hot favourites going into the game, it was only when Paul Cahillane scored a goal from a controversial penalty on the stroke of full-time that Portlaoise could breathe easily.
By common consent, this was always going to be theirs to lose. The reigning champions had blitzed their way through to the final by scoring 14 goals in four games and beating all comers by an average of 13 points.
Every one of their games had been done and dusted by half-time while both Arles-Killeen and St Joseph’s were accounted for within the opening ten minutes. No surprise then that there was talk afoot about Leinster titles.
Provincial glory was the furthest thing from anyone’s minds after an awful first-half which coughed up only half a dozen points and a handful of talking points on what was a perfect day for football.
Arles-Kilcruise will have been happy enough. By sitting deep and hunting in packs they succeeded in stifling Portlaoise who didn’t do themselves any favours when they did manage to manoeuvre some openings.
Six different players kicked six bad wides in the first-half and a number of other attempts dropped into the goalkeeper’s hands. The odd exception aside, Portlaoise looked lifeless, limp.
Maybe it would have been different if Craig Rogers had converted a goal chance five minutes in but his fisted effort was plucked off the line by the covering full-back Patrick Conway.
The underdogs too had a chance to hit the rigging. A superb move involving former Laois captain Chris Conway, Lar Wall and Ross Munnelly left the latter bearing down on Michael Nolan’s goal.
Munnelly seemed odds on to find the net but Nolan did brilliantly to block and the Arles-Kilcruise forward had to be content with a point at the second attempt.
That left it two points apiece and, though the temperature lifted a few notches thanks to some heavy hitting in the tackle, the quality stayed at much the same, tepid level for the remainder of the half.
The interval was no restorative.
Portlaoise restarted with intent but, unbelievably, kicked five more wides in the fist five minutes. Their opponents were equally guilty when David Conway ignored an unmarked Stephen Miller and failed to hit the target.
Portlaoise would end the game with 14 wides and another half dozen efforts that fell short and into the goalkeeper’s hands and a repeat would probably prove more costly next week when they face Louth’s Mattock Rangers in Leinster.
“Yeah, we weren’t happy with that,” said Portlaoise manager John Mulligan. “It was something we worked on as well and it cost us last year when we went out of the Leinster Championship.”
They finally found their shooting boots midway though the second-half when they landed five points against Arles’ one. In a game where scores were at a premium, that burst always had the potential to be decisive.
Hats off to the village side then for sticking with it. Arles responded to Portlaoise’s purple patch with one of their one. With the superb Kevin Meaney driving them on from midfield they managed to reduce the gap to two.
The game breaker came when Portlaoise substitute Colm Byrne rose to claim a superb catch on the edge of the Arles penalty area. By the time he swivelled and shaped up to shoot, he had disappeared under a pack of defenders.
Arles captain Chris Conway said afterwards that his colleagues had merely attempted a legitimate block but Maurice Deegan’s was the only opinion that counted and he pointed to the spot.
Cahillane’s penalty was superb and suggestive of a man who had spent time on the books of Celtic and, though Arles plucked one final point, their gamey challenge had fallen short.
“That wasn’t any tougher than we expected,” said Mulligan. “We knew Arles would provide us with a good, tough, clean and hard challenge and that’s what we got.
“We hadn’t played against that sort of blanket defence before.
“It’s great to get through that. It took us a long time to get around it, but we were playing against the wind in the first-half. Arles came with a game plan and they played to it very effectively. Fair play to them.”
Scorers for Portlaoise: P Cahillane 1-1 (0-1 free, 1-0 penalty), P McNulty 0-2, Z Touhy 0-2 (1f), A Kelly 0-2, B McCormack 0-1, C Rogers 0-1.
Scorers for Arles-Kilcruise: D Conway 0-3 (2f), R Munnelly 0-3 (1f), C Munnelly 0-1f, J McLoughlin 0-1.
PORTLAOISE: M Nolan; M McNulty, K Fitzpatrick, A Fennelly; B Mulligan, C Healy, K Lillis; A Kelly, B McCormack; C Boyle, Z Touhy, B Glynn; P Cahillane, C Rogers, P McNulty.
Subs: C Byrne for Kelly (55), B Fitzgerald for Boyle (58), J Fennell for Mulligan (61).
ARLES-KILCRUISE: J McDonald; M O’Shea, P Conway, D Carroll; JP Conway, C Munnelly, A McElroy; J Conway, K Meaney; R Munnelly, C Conway, S Miller; J McLoughlin, L Wall, D Conway. Sub: F Egan for Wall (48).
Referee: M Deegan (Stradbally).