A CROWD of close on 10,000 witnessed an enthralling conclusion to this tense Galway SHC semi-final as Portumna looked to have let a winning hand slip before salvaging a draw in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
The hurling was poor throughout at Kenny Park in Athenry between two sides who have a lot of baggage – nine players were booked and both dugouts engaged in constant verbal abuse – but the huge crowd got value for money with a dramatic finish.
Johnny O’Loughlin looked to have knocked Portumna out when he landed a superb sideline from 25 metres on the right in the fourth minute of stoppage time. But there was one final kick left in Portumna and it proved to be controversial as Joe Canning pointed a 20 metres free with the last puck of the game.
Loughrea were livid that referee Eoin Shaughnessy, after consulting his umpires, awarded the 21 yards free after a player was penalised for laying on the ball, as the three-in-a-row holders came with a last-gasp effort to stay in the championship.
Portumna looked to be cruising to their eighth county final in a row when they opened up a 1-11 to 0-7 lead with just nine minutes remaining, but Loughrea came with a storming finish with a goal from a free by Johnny Coen. They still trailed by four but in the final minute sub Kenneth Colleran netted after taking a return pass from O’Loughlin.
Portumna, who have only lost two matches in Galway since 2002, hit back with midfielder Eoin Lynch doubling their lead as the game slipped into the first of the designated four minutes of extra-time.
But in a sensational finish, Johnny Maher and Emmet Mahony hit superb points to level the match in the third minute of stoppage time and 60 seconds later O’Loughlin looked to have won it when he pointed a sideline.
The Loughrea celebrations were short-lived as Portumna had time for one final rally which ended with an effort from Andy Smith from the right-wing coming back off the post and in the ensuing melee, the champions were awarded a free and Canning duly obliged.
Portumna led by 0-5 to 0-1 after 15 minutes and were ahead by 1-7 to 0-4 at the break after Conor O’Hare finished to the net after a good pass by Niall Hayes after 19 minutes.
Loughrea, beaten by 19 points in the county final by Portumna last year, did not manage to score from play against the wind in the opening half, but that changed after the restart as they set out their stall with a brace of points from O’Loughlin and Coen and a fourth free from Neil Keary.
But Portumna, bidding to become the third side to win five-in-a-row in Galway – hit back with four points without reply from Kevin Hayes, Damien Hayes and a brace from Joe Canning to lead by 1-11 to 0-7 after 56 minutes.
The next five minutes were scoreless but just when it seemed the Loughrea challenge would fizzle out, Johnny Maher was fouled as he raced on goal and Coen blasted to the net from 20 metres.
The replay has been fixed for next Saturday in Athenry with a 4pm start.
Scorers for Portumna: J Canning (0-7, 0-5f); D Hayes (0-3); C O’Hare (1-0); E Lynch (0-1); N Hayes (0-1); K Hayes (0-1); A Smith (0-1).
Scorers for Loughrea: N Keary (0-4f); J Coen (1-1, 1-0f); K Colleran (1-0); J O’Loughlin (0-3, 0-1slc, 0-1f); J Maher (0-1); E Mahony (0-1); N Shaughnessy (0-1f).
PORTUMNA: I Canning; G Heagney, E McEntee, O Canning; P Smith, M Ryan, A O’Donnell; L Smith, E Lynch; A Smith, K Hayes, D Hayes; C O’Hare, J Canning, N Hayes.
LOUGHREA: N Murray; B Mahony, D McClearn, E Mahony; P Hoban, N Shaughnessy, V Maher; E Mahony, G Keary; J Coen, J Maher, J Regan; T Hoban, J O’Loughlin, N Keary.
Subs: K Colleran for T Hoban, 49; B Dooley for N Keary, 50.
Referee: E O’Shaughnessy.
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