Hot championship favourites Portlaoise advanced to the quarter finals of this years Sparrow Insurance senior football championship by the skin of their teeth as they held off a superb second half display from gritty Arles Kilcruise at O’Moore Park on Saturday evening.
At half time with Portlaoise leading by double scores 0-8 to 0-4 and turning over to play with the strong breeze it looked a formality for the five in a row seeking champions but typically Arles Kilcruise with their backs to the wall turned in yet another magnificent display to level the game by the 19th minute and then press them right to the final whistle.
This was a fine game of football as the championship finally came alive and the repeat of last years decider produced a gripping encounter with the champions left to ponder a number of questions as they continue their quest for five in a row.
Arles Kilcruise although beaten are still very much in the championship and any team with notions of winning it will have to get by them along the way and that will be a tough task.
On the night Portlaoise were clearly the better side but as in the past two county finals between the teams they just cannot put Arles Kilcruise away and had Stephen Miller sank a goal opportunity in the dying minutes then there could have been a different result.
Portlaoise had opened in whirlwind fashion with three points in the opening three minutes and were 0-4 up before Kilcruise got their opening score.
From there to half time they matched the champions score for score and were those four early points in arrears at the break.
Bruno McCormack took a great pass from Craig Rogers to open the scoring and after Barry Fitzgerald converted a free Bruno was set up by a delightful Colm Parkinson cross for his second score.
Portlaoise were off to a flyer and one sensed a big victory was underway as Hugh Coghlan fed Barry Fitzgerald for point number four after eleven minutes of play.
Two minutes later Ross Munnelly opened his sides account and after Colm Parkinson combined again with McCormack for another score Kilcruise enjoyed their best period of the half and forced frees that Ross Munnelly and Chris Conway converted from either side to leave just two between them.
After Bruno got another classy point he and Parkinson were in for a goal chance but Jimmy McDonald brought off a magnificent save in the Kilcruise goal.
Brian Glynn was having a super game in the middle of the park and he hit a massive point as did Parkinson who finished the first half scoring for that four point lead.
Portlaoise stretched their lead to six points on the restart but were first rocked by a Davy Conway goal and then older brother Chris bagged another and Portlaoise were on the back foot but had just enough in reserve to hold on.
Adrian Kelly opened the second half with a point after an attacking solo run down the right flank and another great passing team move ended with Parkinson hitting his third point of the game.
Portlaoise were now coasting but suddenly indecision in front of the posts allowed Davy Conway to gain possession and as he slipped to ground he slid the ball past Mick Nolan and the game was alive again.
The Town response was swift as Malachy McNulty came from corner back for an excellent and Bruno converted a free for a five point lead again.
Then 11 minutes in came one of the best goals likely to be scored this year as Chris Conway played three one twos from then middle of the field in a superb passing move that ended with him slotting the ball inside the right post.
The Portlaoise defence had been opened up with amazing ease Ross Munnelly added two superb points to level the game by the 19th minute of the half.
Bruno and Adrian Kelly combined to set up Barry Fitzgerald for the lead for The Town again and then with the intensity at a premium a minor fracas saw three yellow cards flashed in an instant.
The final 10 minutes scores were at a premium as well as both sides threw everything into winning the game and another Adrian Kelly point edged Portlaoise two clear before Stephen Miller’s goal chance flashed by the wrong side of the upright and then a Ross Munnelly free left the minimum between the sides at the finish.
SCORERS: Portlaoise: Brian McCormack 0-4 (1f), Colm Parkinson 0-3, Barry Fitzgerald 0-3 (1f), Adrian Kelly 0-2, Malachy McNulty, Brian Glynn 0-1 each. Arles Kilcruise Chris Conway 1-2 (2f), Ross Munnelly 0-5 (2f), Davy Conway 1-0.
PORTLAOISE: Mick Nolan; Brian Mulligan, David Browne, Malachy McNulty; Tommy Fitzgerald, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Conor Boyle; Hugh Coghlan, Brian Glynn; Adrian Kelly, Cahir Healy, Brian McCormack, Colm Parkinson, Barry Fitzgerald, Craig Rogers. Subs: Kieran Lillis for Healy (43 mins).
ARLES KILCRUISE: Jimmy McDonald; Mick O’Shea, Sean Meaney, Paudge Conway; John P Conway, Colm Munnelly, Rory Stynes; Kevin Meaney, James Conway; Ross Munnelly, Brendan Conway, Davy Conway; Francis Egan, Chris Conway, James McLoughlin. Subs: Anthony McElroy for Stynes (37 mins), Karl McDonald, Stephen Miller for Brendan Conway (47 mins), Stephen Lalor for Egan (56 mins)
Referee: Eamon Strong Emo