This is only a stepping stone, declares manager Mulligan

THIS one felt good.

Real good.

No sooner had captain Brian McCormack finished his acceptance speech than the singsong broke out from the steps of the main stand in O’Connor Park.

As was the case in Newbridge back in 2004, the man leading the verse was ‘The Doc Fitz’, uncle of full-back Kevin Fitzpatrick, and the song was ‘The Portlaoise Queen’, a tune which now provides the soundtrack to all the club’s major victories.

Though they have won more Leinster titles than any other club, their appetite for the competition has not been dulled. If anything, it has grown.

“We only see this as a stepping stone to going further,” said manager John Mulligan.

“We are in with the big boys now. We are down to the last four, so we have to plan from here and move on. We will enjoy tonight but we have to move on and take on our next challenge after Christmas.”

Though the elements were far from ideal and Garrycastle were a dogged opponent, this never looked like a game that Portlaoise would lose.

Not even when they turned into the second half facing into the wind and minus one player.

Said Mulligan: “Believe it or not, we weren’t actually that concerned at half-time playing against the wind because we usually play well against the wind.

“I think there were times there in the second half where we appeared to have the extra man. It was a marvellous performance by us and moving on from last week (against Clara) I think we went up another rung of the ladder.

“People said Portlaoise couldn’t take the physical stuff but we showed last week we could and this week we showed we had the bottle and the character to come back despite conditions like that. So it’s great.”

The Laois champions have been driven on by the memory of their agonising loss to Ballina in the 2005 All-Ireland final but another loss – to Rhode in Tullamore last year – has been just as pivotal in stoking the fires of desire in recent weeks.

“The boys rose to the occasion,” said Mulligan. “We have had a couple of hard matches and it is getting the best out of them. Today was a big test.

“We came here last year hoping we would get the win and left bitterly disappointed.

“We were back here today and we were really anxious, no matter who we were playing, to put the record straight because traditionally we always like playing in Tullamore. We weren’t going to go out of here today as losers, that’s for sure.”

His opposite number, Anthony Cunningham had no complaints with the result afterwards.

“We were disappointed. The first thing I would say is there’s no fault attributed to any player. We were just unfortunate in that we got a lot of chances there in the second half and failed to convert them. We had eight wides and a few more dropped into the keeper’s hands. Guys don’t go out there to do that. We didn’t have that bit of luck today. We slipped and let in a goal at the worst time to concede a goal – after you score one.”

“That’s just the nature of the game. We’re very disappointed because we know we could have won the match. But hats off to Portlaoise. They’re a classy team who took their scores well.”

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