Sometimes history has a funny way of repeating itself.
The last time the Laois senior football championship wasn’t finished in the year it started was in 1954, when it was held up until March of 1955.
Then Portarlington won both titles, having enduring decades without success prior to it, with the re-emergence coming off the back of good work at junior and juvenile level.
It’s not a topic that anyone close to the Portarlington senior football team will like to touch on – but with the delayed 2020 championship resuming this weekend, they now have a chance of repeating history by winning the Laois SFC title twice in the same year.
There is, of course, enough work to do to win one, particularly seeing as they haven’t even been in a final in 20 years.
But ahead of their 2020 semi-final against Ballyfin in O’Moore Park, it’s worth looking back to 1955 when Portarlington ended a long wait without winning a county final and then winning two in seven months.
When they appeared in the 1951 decider it was their first final appearance in 19 years. They were beaten by Annanough and then lost to Park in 1953. By the time the 1954 season came around, they were 31 years without a championship triumph.
And they had to wait even longer then too as an unholy row in an early round game between Ballyroan and O’Dempsey’s led to all sorts of objections and delays.
That first Ballyroan-O’Dempsey’s game was played in May of 1954 – with the row described by long-time county secretary Lar Brady as the worst he’d ever seen – and the replay wasn’t played until October.
Abbeyleix then gave O’Dempsey’s a walkover but it meant that the Portarlington had reached the 1954 semi-final in August of that year with a win over Stradbally but had to wait until the following March to eventually play the semi-final against neighbours O’Dempsey’s.
Port came out on top in that game to qualify to meet Annanough, who themselves had been waiting around since the previous August after beating Graiguecullen. It was all a bit of a mess.
Despite Annanough winning the 1951 final meeting between the two, Port were now the team to beat.
“Port should have the edge on their opponents,” went the preview in the Nationalist, despite Annanough having “quite an array of inter-county names – Fran and Jim Nerney, Tom Gorman, Terry O’Connell, Tom Murphy and Liam Nugent”.
Port, however, would be led by “crafty one-time county star Benny Hunt”, a veteran of Laois’s 1946 Leinster final win.
The Portarlington notes correspondent in the Nationalist was also very confident, writing that the title was “in the bag”. Like now the club had a serious depth of talent having won the junior title in December.
And their favourite’s tag was justified with a 3-5 to 1-2 win, two of the goals coming from Mick Webster and one from Paul McMurrough.
The Nationalist noted that “the Portarlington stalwarts (captained by Harry Connolly) … played first-class football at a terrific pace”.
The fantastic Portarlington GAA history book penned by Joe O’Dwyer had details of their senior and junior celebration victory céilí in the CYMS hall and also wrote how that county final success got them invitations to tournaments across the province, including the ‘Arklow Tournament’
The duly won that competition beating Baltinglass of Wicklow in the final and claimed the 21-piece tea set of Arklow Pottery for their efforts!
“The problems for Portarlington at this stage with expectations so high was to deliver in 1955 to their full potential,” wrote O’Dwyer.
But they just went from strength to strength with their second team beating Portlaoise’s top team to win the intermediate on October 15 and the seniors following it up by retaining their title a week later.
Again Annanough were the opponents with Port this time prevailing on a scoreline of 1-8 to 0-6, the goal coming from Paddy Shortall. This time Bill Bolton was the captain.
“This has been a great achievement for Portarlington winning the double in 1954-55 and … the same 15 players have fashioned the victories.
“No matter what the future holds, it must be a certainty that those 15 men have written a unique chapter in Laois GAA history.”
Port’s success on multiple fronts was to catch up on them in 1956 when they were forced to enter two senior teams.
“The net result was to unsettle the club,” says the Port GAA history. “Many within the club felt badly treated by the County Board but their hands were tied by the rules.”
As it turned out both Port teams were beaten in the first round, the ‘B’ team losing 1-8 to 0-2 to Graiguecullen and the ‘A’ team going down 1-7 to 0-5 to Park, who would go on to lose the final to Annanough.
Port came back to lose the 1958 final to The Heath but were back on the winning podium again in 1959 when they beat Portlaoise. Again Bill Bolton captained them.
After that they’d appear only once again in the final – 1963 when they lost to O’Dempsey’s – until their 1988 final success.
Almost 70 years later the current generation are in a similar position as their predecessors.
Starting with Ballyfin on Saturday evening they too can write themselves into the history books.
PORTARLINGTON 1954 AND 1955 LAOIS SFC CHAMPIONS: Seamie Ryan, Paddy Horan, Benny Hunt, Tony Coleman, Pat McCann, Bill Bolton, Peadar Foster, Harry Connolly, Jim Flaherty, Noel Lalor, Lauri Lalor, Paul McMurrough, Liam Hickey, Mick Webster, Paddy Shortall. Subs: Hugh Keogh, John McGowan, Tony Kelly, Mick Boylan, Billy Murphy, Donie Dunne, Jimmy Carroll, Frank Purcell.