Portlaoise 1-9 Garrycastle 1-5
Fourteen-man Portlaoise moved further ahead at the top of Leinster’s roll of honour by winning a record seventh provincial football title at Tullamore today.
Despite having to play more than half the game a man short, the Laois men proved too strong, smart and courageous for a Garrycastle side lacking in ideas.
Too many of the Westmeath side’s key players failed to perform on the big occasion that was their first Leinster final appearance, with Dessie Dolan having a disappointing afternoon, eclipsed by the excellent Cahir Healy
In front of a crowd of 3,400, Portlaoise doggedly defended the four points lead they established in the first half, but they needed a superb goal from man of the match Barry Fitzgerald to see off the challenge of Anthony Cunningham’s side.
Aided by a strong breeze, the direct style adopted by Portlaoise served them well in the opening 20 minutes, during which they established a four-point lead.
Cahir Healy and Aidan Fennelly delivered from deep to the inside line, where Paul Cahillane and Colm Byrne received gratefully to split the posts with style.
Colm Byrne’s clever lay-off sent Craig Rogers in for the first of his two points.
There was a cohesion and neatness about the Laois champions’ movement of the ball that Garrycastle struggled to contain.
The deployment of full forward Gary Dolan around the middle did help them secure valuable possession, but also provided his marker Kevin Fitzpatrick with the opportunity to step up and shoot a long-range point.
The introduction of Tom McHugh tightened things up at the back for the Westmeath men, and they pulled back points through Seanie O’Donoghue and Paul Dillon.
Paul Cahillane had just powered over a superb score for Portlaoise when they were reduced to 14 men in the 27th minute, Peter McNulty’s late challenge on James Duignan earning him a second yellow card.
Portlaoise led by 0-7 to 0-3 at the break, but Garrycastle grabbed a goal four minutes into the second half when Paddy Mulvihill crossed from the left for Gary Dolan to punch home a the far post.
Westmeath joy lasted barely a minute, however, thanks to Barry Fitzgerald’s sublime finish to the bottom corner of the net at the other end.
Dessie Dolan’s only point of the afternoon came from a free at the end of the third quarter, keeping his side very much in touch at three points adrift
Phenomenal workrate and tenacious tackling was Portlaoise’s greatest asset during an untidy period, their opponents unable to impose themselves on the contest despite the assistance of the strong breeze.
They held their opponents scoreless throughout the final quarter, with Eoin Bland, Kieran Lillis and Healy performing heroics at the back.
It was the elusive Fitzgerald who shot the final point a full 12 minutes from the end.
Garrycastle: C Mullin, P Rattigan, J Gaffey, E Mulvihill, M McCallon, K Henson, D Harte, S O’Donoghue (0-1), D O’Shaughnessy, J Dolan, D Dolan (0-1, f), P Mulvihill, P Dillon (0-2, 1f), G Dolan (1-1), J Duignan.
Subs: T McHugh for Rattigan, A Browne for O’Shaughnessy, D Hermbusche for McHugh, S Mulvihill for P Mulvihill, A Daly for Duignan.
Portlaoise: M Nolan, E Bland, K Fitzpatrick (0-1), M McNulty, B Mulligan, C Healy, K Lillis, A Fennelly (0-1), B McCormack, C Rodgers (0-2), B Glynn, P McNulty, P Cahillane (0-2), C Byrne (0-1), B Fitzgerald (1-2, 0-1f).
Subs: J Fennell for Byrne, C Boyle for Glynn, B Smyth for Rogers A Kelly for Mulligan.
Referee: D Fahy (Longford).