Kilmallock booked a place in the All-Ireland Club final with a facile win over Ulster champions Portaferry on Saturday in Mullingar, a result that wasn’t in doubt after the second minute, when Kilmallock teenager Paddy O’Loughlin goaled. The score unnerved Portaferry, in the words of the Ulster champions’ manager, and the Limerick side never looked back.
Kilmallock added the points and overwhelmed Portaferry everywhere on the field with their intensity, speed and touch.
“It was a sucker punch, they got the start we wanted, really,” said Portaferry boss Sean Young. “It unnerved our lads, we were 1-1 down with a minute-forty-five on the clock.
“We panicked on the ball at stages and instead of hitting good ball we hit high ball into them, and we weren’t going to outfield them. They’re a wee bit further down the line than us, you could see why they’re Munster champions. I wish them all the best.”
Kilmallock didn’t sustain that excellence all through, as Portaferry rallied through Paul Braniff and John Convery, but the Limerick men were five up at the break, 1-8 to 0-6, and they took over in the second half with six points on the trot; the final one in that sequence, a superb strike from wing-back Kevin O’Donnell, putting them 11 ahead.
When Graeme Mulcahy got Kilmallock’s second goal ten minutes from time it was a stylistic flourish rather than a necessity.
“We’re thrilled to be there,” said Kilmallock manager Ger O’Loughlin afterwards of the progress to an All-Ireland final.
“We’ve a lot of work to do, though. Credit to Portaferry, they came down here and worked hard and fought hard, but we got the scores in the second half that gave us the comfort zone we needed.
“But I can’t emphasise that enough, that that wouldn’t be good enough to win an All-Ireland club.”
The flaws included 11 wides, and allowing Portaferry to test goalkeeper Barry Hennessy more than once. Sean Young in the Down corner was entitled to say that his side had “punished” themselves: “We had a couple of goal chances that could have changed the balance of the game.”
Kilmallock also got frustrated with a few of the decisions by referee John Keenan, and O’Loughlin is likely to focus on that aspect of their game when facing a side as experienced as Ballyhale Shamrocks in the final.
“You’ve to get there first,” said O’Loughlin, “Then you can worry about who you’ve to deal with, and we’d be under no illusions about the challenge with Ballyhale, but for the next 24 hours we’ll celebrate before we get down to the work, we’ve a lot of work to do to be able to challenge them.
Specifically? Our wides, our aggression on the ball — or lack of aggression on the ball — and we’d need to be more clinical against a team like Ballyhale, or they’ll rip you apart. The lads know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We know how good they are, but we’ve also come through a tough campaign.”
They’ve got plenty of positives, though. Take their first goalscorer on Saturday. “Paddy’s only 17 and he’s underage for the Limerick minors again this season,” said O’Loughlin, “But he’s one of these lads you could put in at senior level and be comfortable with, there’s not too many 17-year-olds you could say that about. He’s strong, he’s committed, and he’s a good striker of the ball, I’d never have any worries about him.”
The late switch of venue from Thurles to Mullingar was more of an issue for supporters than the team, O’Loughlin added.
“The pitch was lovely, you can see that, though it probably would have been a different game in Thurles. We needed a physical game and we got that today.”
They did. And the Kilmallock faithful got a little more than that, rising to their feet when one of their greatest players, Andrew O’Shaughnessy, came on as a substitute with a couple of minutes to go: a fitting tribute to a true warrior. Can they manage the fairytale ending now?
Scorers for Kilmallock: E. Ryan 0-7 (0-4fs); G. Mulcahy 1-2; P. O’Loughlin 1-0; B. O’Sullivan 0-4; K. O’Donnell 0-2 (0-1 f); J. Mulcahy, R. Egan, P. O’Brien, C. Barry 0-1 each.
Scorers for Portaferry: P. Braniff 0-9 (0-6fs, 0-1 65); K. McGarry, E. Sands and K. McGarry 0-1 each.
Subs for Kilmallock: R Hanley for Kennelly 45, C Barry for J Mulcahy 54, A O’Shaughnessy for Paddy O’Loughlin 56, J Meade for M O’Loughlin 57, D Joy for Walsh 59.
Subs for Portaferry: S Murray for Magee 37, N White for Taggart 50, B Trainor for McGarry 54, B Coleman for S Mageean 57.
Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow).