Portlaoise make history with maiden title
Laois LGFA Senior Football Final
Champions never slip off their throne. They’re always dragged, screaming and kicking, off it. So it was with this heavyweight clash. The pretenders Portlaoise had beaten Sarsfields earlier in the championship. This only confirmed to many shrewd observers that is extraordinary year would be capped off with Portlaoise’s first-ever title in the Senior ranks.
Facing Portlaoise though was the team of teams. The numbers Sarsfields have racked up are astonishing. This was their 15th consecutive final or 17th if you throw in 2 pesky replays. This was their tilt at the never-before-achieved 8-in-a-row.
Two superb sides and the opening quarter confirmed there was little between them. The county town side got the scoreboard ticking over with a smart Aisling Kehoe finish. Mags McEvoy opened Sarsfields’ account when shooting over. Portlaoise continued to break at pace however. Indeed it took a smart stop by Sarsfields’ custodian Becky Williams at the end of one of those raids to thwart the challengers. Grainne Moran followed up on the breaking ball but sliced her effort wide.
Ironically it was a Williams’ fumble that next gifted Portlaoise their next score from an Alison Taylor ‘45’. This toing and froing saw the two sides exchanges wides before Williams kept the Sarsfield’s goal intact with a very good stop. The champions then broke at pace and Clare Conlon equalised.
Evens stevens at the first water break but Portlaoise were to go on and put together their most productive spell of football on the resumption. Great defending from the challengers saw them bottle up several Sarsfield’s attacks then break at pace; primarily through Taylor and Fiona Dooley. A delightful Dooley point from play all of thirty-five yards from Williams’ goals saw Portlaoise regain the lead. The challengers then doubled their lead with another great Taylor point.
In contrast Sarsfields had to fight through banks of Portlaoise defenders and made little inroads. Sarah Ann Fitzgerald was the heart of Portlaoise’s defence and she broke up attack after attack. Not content with that when Fitzgerald went raiding forward alarm bells rang out across an increasingly harried Sarsfields’ defence. A pair of missed frees let the champs off the hook however when Portlaoise were rampant. The pretenders were less wasteful moments later when Kehoe notched up the game’s decisive goal. After immense work from Taylor winning the turnover the Portlaoise talisman fed Dooley. She, in turn, flighted in a delicious ball which just eluded Kehoe’s outstretched hands. The Portlaoise forward didn’t break stride however and pulled on the ball first time. Williams had no chance as the shot rocketed past her into the bottom left-hand corner of the goals.
That lead of 1-04 to a Sarsfields’ brace of points looked to be the launch pad for complete Portlaoise domination. With the wind at their backs Portlaoise looked poised to kick on but it was the eternal champions Sarsfields who responded magnificently. Breaking with more pace the champs bypassed Portlaoise’s defence to notch up three points on the spin. A Lorna O’ Sullivan brace was added to by a Lauramarie Maher point leaving Sarsfields only trailing by two points at the interval. Indeed Portlaoise were thankful to Sara Flemming late on as her incredibly brave block denied Amy Loughman an almost certain goal.
The second half opened just as the opening half ended with Sarsfields raiding forward. Maher added to her tally to bring her side within one solitary point of Portlaoise. Ellen Healy extended her side’s advantage before Conlon and Kehoe added to their tallies to leave the gap at two points again. The introduction of Portlaoise sub Kirsten Keenan added to the challenger’s effort. The ever-deadly Leah Loughman then duly pointed another free to stretch her side’s lead to three. Jackson then tacked on another point for Portlaoise. The champs responded but superb tracking across by Healy broke up Sarsfield’s attack. Portlaoise’s high press then turned over possession from a Williams’ kickout and saw the challengers extend their lead to five.
The Champions responded as true champs do but they never looked likely to cut down the deficit as full time loomed large. Indeed Portlaoise kept ball efficiently for large blocks of the last ten minutes. When Sarsfields did break through determined tackling and screening across from Ciara Byrne and Clare Dunne in particular kept their side on track for the first-ever title at this grade.
Best for a gallant Sarsfields side were Alison McEvoy, Becky Williams and Clare Conlon. For the newly crowned champions Alison Taylor, Sarah Anne Fitzgerald, Fiona Dooley, Ellen Healy and Aisling Kehoe all shone. Aisling Kehoe was our Laois People ‘Player of the Match’
Portlaoise Scorers Aisling Kehoe 1-3, Sarah Anne Fitzgerald 0-1, Fiona Dooley 0-1, Alison Taylor 0-1, Ellen Healy 0-1, Leah Loughman 0-2 (2 x f), Shaunagh Jackson 0-2
Sarsfields Scorers Clare Conlon 0-5 (5 x f), Mags McEvoy 0-1, Lorna O’Sullivan 0-2, Laura Marie Maher 0-2, Joyce Dunne 0-1, Leah Tarpey 0-1
Portlaoise Aoife Hyland-Conlon, Ciara Byrne, Sarah Fleming, Clare Dunne, Amy Byrne, Aisling Saunders, Julia Cahill, Fiona Dooley, Ellen Healy, Grainne Moran, Aisling Kehoe, Alison Taylor, Shaunagh Jackson, Sarah Anne Fitzgerald, Leah Loughman. Substitutes Kirsten Keenan for Moran (44), Rebecca Reddin for Dunne (39), Maeve Phelan for Dooley (49), Fiona Dooley for Loughman (58)
Sarsfields Becky Williams, Rachel Williams, Jenny McEvoy, Amy Loughman, Ava Lawlor, Emma McEvoy, Alison McEvoy, Joyce Dunne, Mags McEvoy, Aisling Bohane, Clare Conlon, Rosemarie Birmingham, Meghan Dunne, Lorna O’Sullivan, Lauramarie Maher. Substitutes Leah Tarpey for Birmingham (45), Grainne Lalor for O’Sullivan (49), Lauren Kearney for Dunne (57), Ciara Murphy for Bohane (60, injury)