Ryan the game-breaker for Saints

DECEMBER football doesn’t enjoy the most enviable of reputations but the Dublin and Laois champions made light of the heavy and Baltic conditions yesterday to deliver one of the best games seen in the last 12 months.

It took almost 90 minutes to separate the protagonists who shared 34 scores, 56 frees and eight yellow cards in this Leinster club semi-final. They drew level eight times in all before Philly Ryan’s late goal sealed a place in the Leinster final for Brigid’s in extra-time.

That is just the bare bones.

This was a game that hummed with electricity: on the pitch where a taut encounter regularly threatened to overheat but never quite did, on the sidelines where opposing managers squared up and in the stands where invective flowed between both sets of fans.

There was controversy too. Well, almost.

Had Portlaoise won, the Dubliners would have surely cried foul over a point kicked by Ryan towards the end of normal time. The corner forward’s effort clearly sneaked inside the post but was ruled out by the referee after his umpire waved the white flag.

That, in itself, would have been a memorable cap on the 60 minutes but there was still time for Barry Cahill to score what appeared to be the winner after a plethora of steps with ball in hand before Barry Fitzgerald equalised with a Hail Mary free from the touchline.

It was that type of day. Crazy and wonderful all in one.

“When you are on the line you don’t realise what kind of a game it is,” said Brigid’s manager Gerry McEntee. “I know it was an exciting game but I don’t know what the quality was like. It could have gone either way. It swung over and back the whole match. Even in extra-time. Whichever team won was going to be lucky and it happened to be us.”

The only shame was that someone had to lose and that the game had been bumped from the live TV schedules in favour of the replayed Munster hurling final but those in attendance sure got full value for their tenner.

“That’s an incredible dressing-room in there,” said Portlaoise’s joint manager Mick Lillis. “The devastation is shocking. We’ve worked like Trojans with this game in mind. We nearly got caught in our preparations because the focus was always going to be on St Brigid’s but the harder you work the worse the disappointment is.”

The seven-time champions appeared well on the way to title number eight after just 22 minutes when Paul Cahillane’s third free left them with a four-point buffer and with the knowledge that they would have the wind at their backs for the second period.

Had it not been for Paddy Andrew’s opportunistic goal from a rebound five minutes earlier – one which cancelled out a superbly worked three-pointer from Colm Parkinson – Brigid’s hopes may have already been mislaid by then.

As it was, the 2003 provincial champions reeled off a quartet of points to leave it all square at the interval to leave Portlaoise rueing a pair of excellent goal chances for Parkinson and Brian Fitzpatrick which went abegging.

Portlaoise’s regrets would extend into the second-half, particularly when midfielder Brian Glynn was played into space and, with only goalkeeper Shane Supple to beat, he decided to take his point but skewed the ball wide of the right-hand post.

That was a rare clear cut chance for the Portlaoise forwards after the interval. The Dublin defence was all at sea in the first-half but their transformation from porous to parsimonious was personified by Sean Murray.

The Dublin panellist endured an horrendous first-half but his switch to centre-back worked wonders for the man and the team and he was crucial to the second Brigid’s goal at the end of two extra periods in which the teams again went toe to toe.

With time almost up and Brigid’s a point up, Portlaoise played a high free into the square which Murray claimed before sending his clearance in the general direction of midfield. Lorcan McCarthy collected and fed Ryan who rounded Mick Nolan and tapped into the empty net.

It was that close.

Scorers for St Brigid’s: P Andrews (1-4); K Darcy (0-4, 0-3 frees); M Cahill (0-3, 2 frees); P Ryan (1-0); A Daly (0-1); B Cahill (0-1); C Mullins (0-1); J O’Loughlin (0-1); L McCarthy (0-1).

Scorers for Portlaoise: B McCormack (0-4); A Kelly (0-4); P Cahillane (0-3 frees); C Parkinson (1-0); H Coghlan (0-1); B Fitzgerald (0-1 free); C Rogers (0-1); I Fitzgerald (0-1).

ST BRIGID’S: S Supple; C Freeman, S Murray, G Norton; G Kane, Martin Cahill, A Daly; B Cahill, J O’Loughlin; C Mullins, Mark Cahill, P Ryan; K Darcy, P Andrews, P Ryan.

Subs: L McCarthy for Freeman (33); O McCann for Kilmurray (45); D Plunkett for Mark Cahill (75).

PORTLAOISE: M Nolan; T Fitzgerald, K Fitzpatrick, B Mulligan; K Lillis, C Healy, C Boyle; H Coghlan, B Glynn; C Parkinson, B McCormack, A Kelly; P Cahillane, B Fitzgerald, B Smith.

Subs: C Rogers for Parkinson (42); E Bland for T Fitzgerald (56); I Fitzgerald for Smith (58); C Parkinson for Kelly (60); A Kelly for Parkinson (75).

Referee: C Reilly (Meath).

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