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Experience, promise and character – 6 Talking Points from two hugely dramatic Laois SFC semi-finals

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After an incredibly dramatic day of Laois SFC semi-final action in O’Moore Park on Sunday – when Portlaoise beat Portarlington 1-13 to 1-11 and Ballyfin and Killeshin drew, we look at some of the day’s big talking points.

Portlaoise show their champion spirit

They’re not in a 13th final in a row and going for a 12th title in 13 seasons for no reason. Portlaoise showed why they’re contstantly the team to beat in Laois in the second-half of Sunday’s Laois SFC semi-final against an up and coming Portarlington side.

They got off to a dreadful start, trailed by six points at half time, were down as the clock ticked towards injury time – but scored the last three points of the game to win by two.

It was cruel on a young Portarlington side that had played so well but the way Portlaoise upped their performance in the second half and calmly eat into the lead was just so impressive. The penalty call shortly after the break may have been slightly on the soft side but Brian McCormack was exceptional and on a dog of day the likes of Kieran Lillis, Ciaran McEvoy and Brian Glynn really stood up.

Ricky Maher also chipped in with two points, as did Gareth Dillon, including the winner, while Craig Rogers and Frank Flanagan both made a telling impact off the bench.

Portlaoise may be showing signs that they’re not the power they once were but they knew how to dig out this result.

Portarlington show their promise … and their inexperience

Last week in the buildup to this game we wondered which Portarlington side would show up. The one that scored 5-15 and blew Graiguecullen away in the quarter-final, or the one that huffed and puffed a bit too much in the earlier rounds.

In the end they did both. In the first half they played with all the confidence of a side that knew they had it in them to take the scalp of Portlaoise. Then, when things went against them in the second half, their inexperience came to the fore.

Colm Murphy was their only scorer in the second half, they messed up too many attacks and too often they seemed to lose their focus. The 13 minutes of injury time were chaotic and there was bits of scraps all over the place – but Portarlington finished with 12 men.

Nobody would have begrudged them a draw and a midweek replay would have been a mouth-watering prospect.

This was undoubtedly a missed opportunity and it be hard for them to stomach this result now. But they have time on their side and if they build on this year’s run, they are the best placed club in Laois to stop Portlaoise’s dominance.

All that injury time

The penalty decision early in the second half for a foul on Ricky Maher was a big call but so too was Michael Tarpey’s decision to play 13 minutes of injury time. There were only five minutes signalled but that time was pock-marked with numerous stoppages and cards of all colours.

Portlaoise also scored their last two points in the added-on time. Bizarrely, there was also six minutes of injury time played in the first half when only one was signalled.

There was justification in going over the time that was initially signalled but it was hard to see how so much extra was played.

Black card bother and early test for Killeshin

The second game wasn’t of the same high standard – nor had it the same levels of drama even if it was a right good contest in its own right and went right down to the wire.

Killeshin were dealt an early blow with the black carding of Evan Lowry for a foul on Ricky Quillinan straight in front of goals. While it stopped a potential goal-scoring chance, the black card did seem harsh. The conditions were dreadful and the challenge seemed more clumsy than a deliberate pull down.

Ballyfin got a goal shortly after when a short kickout went badly and ended up with Sean Moore, of all people, straight in front of goal. He duly tucked away in the back of the net just as you’d expect him to. At one stage Ballyfin were five up early in the first half.

But Killeshin battled back thanks to a couple of David Aston frees, two from play from Eoin Lowry, one from Michael Doran and an absolute screamer of a goal from Cathal Doran – at half time the sides were level 1-6 apiece.

Ballyfin show their mettle again

Just as Ballyfin had opened up a lead in the first half, it was the turn of Killeshin to build a lead early in the second following Eoin Lowry’s goal and a Cathal Brennan free.

But despite Stephen Attride doing a great marking job on Sean Moore, Ballyfin hit a string of points to first draw level and then take the lead as full-time approached.

With a small panel and enjoying a run in the senior championship like never before, Ballyfin showed all their battling spirits again. Captain Ciaran Fingleton, George Lanham and Allan and Darragh Connolly led from the back, James Finn from midfield and the Moores, Louis Duff, Dan Molloy and Jack Priestley all played their part too.

Killeshin, though, held their nerve with Eoin Lowry firing over the equaliser and Stephen Attride seeing his last minute effort for a winner go wide.

Both sides emptied themselves – and they’ll have to do it all over again on Wednesday night, meaning a very busy week for Ballyfin who are also in hurling semi-final action in the Senior ‘A’ on Saturday against The Harps.

Pitch under serious pressure

The O’Moore Park pitch on Sunday was just about playable. Following on from Saturday’s intermediate and junior final double header in serious rain, it was badly cut up on Sunday – with the corner on the terrace side and at the town end particularly wet.

The four teams battled impressively and there was a couple of instances of great kicking in spite of the underfoot conditions. The weather over the last three weekends has been poor but the pitch is once again getting an incredible amount of use.

Last weekend there was nine games in four days plus underage finals; this week there was two double headers, two days running.

If there’s further rain between now and Wednesday, it’s hard to see what condition it’ll be in for the replay between Ballyfin and Killeshin – and it’s currently scheduled to host the Senior ‘A’ hurling semi-finals this coming Saturday and the Senior hurling semi-finals on Sunday. Perhaps it’s time for a change.

The full list of games there over the past three weeks shows just how much use the county grounds have got.

  • Friday, September 13 – Laois IFC Semi-final: Mountmellick v Clonaslee
  • Sunday, September 15 – 4 x Laois SFC quarter-finals
  • Monday, September 16 – Laois IFC semi-final: Rosenallis v Portlaoise
  • Thursday, September 19 – Laois SFC replay: Portarlington v Graiguecullen
  • Friday, September 20 – Laois SHC quarter-final: Camross v Castletown
  • Saturday, September 21 – 2 x Laois camogie finals; Laois JHC final; Laois IHC final; Laois underage games
  • Sunday, September 22 – 2 x Laois SHC ‘A’ quarter-finals; Laois SHC quarter-final
  • Saturday, September 28 – Laois JFC final; Laois IFC final
  • Sunday, September 29 – Laois SFC semi-final

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Steven Miller is owner and managing editor of LaoisToday.ie. From Laois, Steven studied Journalism in DCU and has 14 years experience in the media, almost 10 of those in an editorial role. Husband of Emily, father of William and Lillian, he's happiest when he's telling stories or kicking a point.