Still, it would be remiss not to start by focusing on the newest Leinster champions. For ‘Boden, this was their maiden provincial football title and they claimed it the hard way, by adding the scalp of the Laois giants to those of Kilmacud Crokes, Eoghan Ruadh/Oliver Plunketts and St Vincent’s. Not a bad roll call, that and they pause for Christmas now in the knowledge that a number of the traditional club heavyweights are absent and they will have no fear of facing Tipperary’s Clonmel Commercials or London’s Tir Chonaill Gaels come February.
“Let’s enjoy this one, merry Christmas,” said captain Darragh Nelson from the steps of the O’Connor Park stand as he held aloft the McCabe Cup, but manager Andy McEntee was already suggesting that their break will be over sooner rather than later.
New ground awaits them. They had standout performers in every line:, from Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan who made two crucial second-half saves through to Conal Keaney who claimed four pointed frees and did a good deal more in knitting together the pieces in the final third.
Portlaoise will nod at all of that and still feel as though they won a rollover Lotto and lost the ticket. Rarely in the annals of major finals has the GAA seen one team lose a game in so many ways, though the last of their regrets will stand as the greatest.
The game was deep into injury-time when Paul Cahillane stood over what would in other circumstances have been a straightforward free, but the Portlaoise dangerman somehow sent the ball ballooning high and wide in the windless sky.
On the corner of the Boden ‘D’, it was even at an angle that suited a left-footer perfectly and, as a miss, it was reminiscent of Dessie Dolan’s jaw-dropping wide in 2001 when Westmeath stood on the brink of a first ever championship win over Meath.
The seven-time Leinster champions will look back, too, at the moment Durcan tipped Brian McCormack’s shot back off one of his posts after 50 minutes and the two sloppy — from their point of view — goals they conceded in the first half.
They will rue the save Durcan made from Brian Glynn, the shots that dropped shot into the goalkeeper’s hands and the point they gifted Andrew Kerins when Conor Boyle was caught in possession 16 minutes from time, though it should have cost them a goal.
Even Ballyboden manager Andy McEntee intimated that his lads rode their luck at times.
“It mightn’t have been pretty but they just continued to work. I think that reflected in the result. There’s a lot of things we could do better. We could defend better. We didn’t spot where we were causing them trouble and go after it. That long diagonal ball was causing them trouble but I don’t think we did enough of it. We actually overdid it in the middle of the field. But, in all fairness, only for Paul Durcan, we could have been in real trouble.”
Ballyboden started well. Andrew Kerins had the first goal after just six minutes. Portlaoise appeared to have stemmed the danger when the ball squirted through a gaggle of bodies to the corner-forward and his finish off the turf, though poor, wriggled under goalkeeper Graham Brody.
The Portlaoise stopper prevented a second 24 minutes in when he diverted Sam Moloney’s effort to safety, but the midland side had settled by then having claimed a half-dozen, points, four of them on the spin, against Boden’s 1-3.
Cahillane, who was so deadly against Emmet Óg in the semi-final, was well chaperoned by Shane Clayton for most of the afternoon but he got loose for long enough just before the break to divert a dropping Brian Smyth Hail Mary into the net. They were decent value for the two-point lead at that point, but it didn’t last to the break as Michael Darragh Macauley again found a rich seam underneath Brody and into the net after a clever Maloney ball found Darren O’Reilly, who fed the overlapping county man.
It was one of the game’s key moments.
“When they got the goal, you would have to have said that they had all the momentum at that point,” said McEntee afterwards. “But our response to the goal was good ourselves. We came down and got one straight away.”
They would ride their luck in the second half. Durcan’s pair of interventions would be most notable, but the Laois representatives would rack up three wides between the 59th and 62nd minutes alone as they chased an eight provincial title in vain.
A Kerin (1-2); C Keaney (0-4 frees); MD Macauley (1-0); C Basquel, S Maloney, A Waters (0-1 each).
P Cahillane (1-2, 0-2 frees); B McCormack and B Smyth (0-2 each); C Rogers (0-2, 0-1 free); E Whelan, C Healy and B Glynn, (all 0-1).
P Durcan, B Dwane, S Hiney, S Clayton, S O’Connor, D Nelson, R McDaid, MD Macauley, D O’Mahony; D O’Reilly, C Basquel, D Davey; S Moloney, C Keaney, A Kerin. Subs: S Gibbons for Davey (34); A Waters for O’Reilly (42); S Durkin for O’Connor (47); D McCabe for O’Mahony (63).
G Brody; J Delaney, C Healy, D Seale; E Whelan, K Lillis, B Mulligan; D Cullen, C Boyle; G Dillon, C Rogers, B Glynn; B McCormack, P Cahillane, B Smyth. Subs: C Dunphy for Cullen (12); R Maher for Dillon (52).
J Hickey (Carlow).