The 20-year-old former Irish soccer youth international oozed class at O’Moore Park on Saturday as he slotted three points from play, while also converting a second half penalty to send Portlaoise on their way to a Leinster Club final.
But Clara manager, Pat Flanagan, was furious with the performance of referee, Joe Curley, claiming that “the smaller teams don’t get the calls”.
The Town upped the tempo after Cahillane’s goal pushed them four points clear and they completely dominated from thereon, restricting Clara to just a point, while adding six more themselves to win comfortably.
It might all have been different though had John Reynolds converted a 19th minute penalty for Clara. At that stage, the Offaly champions were leading by a point, courtesy of scores from former Dublin minor, John O’Hara, and Thomas Deehan (free) in response to Cahillane’s opener.
Reynolds shot just wide of the left upright but Flanagan was incensed that Portlaoise goalkeeper, Mickey Nolan, escaped with just a yellow for hauling Deehan down with the net gaping.
“It’s always difficult to take defeat but a defeat in those circumstances was very difficult to take,” said Flanagan.
“You can always complain about refereeing decisions but I thought some of them were very dubious.
“The referee has to live with himself. I think on balance there was a couple of decisions that changed the whole course (of the game).
“The scoreline reflects that Portlaoise beat us out of the park. On the balance of the last 20 minutes that’s exactly what happened but there were a couple of decisions that gave them the momentum to go on.”
He slammed: “The (Portlaoise) penalty decision was number one, but the other penalty decision too, with fellas taken clean out of the game. How a guy can be left on the pitch after that? I can’t understand it.
“It’s always a case where the smaller teams don’t get the calls…
“It was a definite goal had he not been brought down. The penalty is a very difficult thing to score. I don’t see the advantage of a guy showing quality football, going around the goalkeeper and he being dragged to the ground and nothing happens. And the guy is left on to play his full game out there.”
Portlaoise boss, John Mulligan, agreed that, had Reynolds found the net, it would have been a much more difficult encounter for his team but he felt that they had the character to come back from anything.
“It would have been a real test for us to have to come back from that. In fairness, last week, we showed that we can come back. We went out with the intention that we would not give up the ghost today, our backs were very determined. We went to do a job and stick with the game plan.”
Not even the introduction of Joe Quinn, making his first appearance since being seriously ill earlier this year, could inspire the Offaly champions and insult was added to injury with the late dismissal of Stephen Deehan.
It was a feisty affair throughout, with the heat on the field in complete contrast to the biting cold everywhere else. Fog enveloped the pitch but one sensed that it would have taken a plague of locusts for this tie to be abandoned, and the use of the lights from the start of the second half improved matters considerably. Clara began impressively and Thomas Deehan escaped the clutches of Cahir Healy on a number of occasions, but failed to convert possession into scores. Of course Nolan’s intercession – legal at Croke Park but not so here – denied him a certain goal. Two frees from Fitzgerald gave the local side the lead at the break and when the same player was adjudged to have been fouled, after the constantly menacing full-forward Colm Byrne had caught another ball on the edge of the Clara square, Cahillane rifled low to Kevin Meehan’s left.
Stephen Deehan registered Clara’s first score for 21 minutes to reduce the margin to three points but they wouldn’t trouble the scorekeeper again.
Portlaoise’s workrate never dropped and as more space began to open up, they flourished.
Peter McNulty and Cahillane slotted a brace of points each, while subs Brian Smyth and Jack Fennell also got on the scoresheet as thoughts turned to a final joust with Garrycastle in Tullamore next Sunday.
PORTLAOISE: M Nolan; E Bland, M McNulty, C Healy; K Lillis, K Fitzpatrick, B Mulligan; A Fennelly, B McCormack; B Fitzgerald 0-2 (fs), P McNulty 0-2, B Glynn; P Cahillane 1-3 (1-0 pen), C Byrne, C Rogers.
Subs: B Smyth 0-1 for Fitzpatrick (ht); C Boyle for Byrne (57); C Higgins for Mulligan (60); J Fennell 0-1 for Fitzgerald (60)
CLARA: K Meehan; D Kelly, A Cronin, D Baggot; P Mitchell, M Mitchell, L Hiney; S Brady, G Guilfoyle; T Dalton, J O’Hara 0-1, J Reynolds; E Brady, S Deehan 0-1, T Deehan 0-1(f).
Subs: J Quinn for Baggott (42); P Deehan for O’Hara (44); M Rosney for Cronin (54); J Ledwith for P Mitchell (57).
Referee: J Curley (Meath).