Kilmacud Croke's hang against Portlaoise on to book spot in Leinster decider
AIB Leinster Club Senior Football Championship semi-final: Kilmacud Croke’s (Dublin) 1-17 Portlaoise (Laois) 3-8
IN only slightly different circumstances, Kilmacud Croke’s would be licking their wounds this morning after crashing out of the Leinster club football championship.
That didn't happen, of course, but the tournament favourites lived dangerously at Parnell Park and were cut asunder at times having previously not conceded a goal in over 360 minutes of championship football.
Before yesterday's Leinster club SFC semi-final, the Dubliners and 2009 All-Ireland winners hadn't leaked a single goal since playing Ballyboden last April yet coughed up three here and were fortunate it was only that much.
A fourth looked highly likely when Portlaoise, trailing by three points, were awarded a penalty in stoppage time but Craig Rogers' shot was saved by David Nestor.
It was the clear turning point of a highly entertaining game and Kilmacud hung on to return to the final after eight years away.
In truth, the four-time champions will be mightily relieved to be advancing to play first-time finalists Mullinalaghta on December 9 because they lived on their wits throughout.
Portlaoise troubled them every time they attacked and can't say they didn't have the chances to pull off an upset but 12 wides - nine in the first-half - allied to that penalty miss, cost them.
"It wasn't the way we wanted to get there but we got there," said Johnny Magee, the joint Croke’s manager.
"We're a very young side, this is the first run in Leinster for a lot of these guys and we were playing a very good Portlaoise, a very good footballing team, very experienced, and you could see that in how they played.
"We were a bit naive, bringing the ball into contact and inviting trouble onto ourselves but when we did move the ball quickly and effectively we caused them problems.
"We didn't do that enough and coughed up a lot of easy possessions, unforced errors. It's out of character from our performances all year but that's what Leinster club football is about, being tested and learning.
"There's only so much you can do as a coach or manager to prepare lads for the last five minutes of a game like that and our lads stood up."
Back to back Allstar Paul Mannion came into the game in top form after returning 2-6 and 1-6 tallies in his last two games.
He was carefully monitored by Portlaoise's David Seale who was relatively successful and held the livewire forward to five points and just three from play.
Dara Mullin was Kilmacud’s standout forward initially and his early goal put them into a lead they would hold for most of the game.
They have seven different scorers in the half and took a 1-11 to 2-5 lead at the interval as both sets of forwards dominated.
The problem for Portlaoise was their poor execution and while Gareth Dillon and Paul Cahillane sniped first-half goals, their colleagues simply wasted too many opportunities.
Croke’s never actually trailed in the game but were pegged back to level terms after a 46th minute Rogers goal.
He was only on the pitch a matter of minutes when he executed a neat one-two and shot to the net to tie it up at 1-14 to 3-8.
But it was agony from there on for Portlaoise who didn't score again despite that golden opportunity which was put in front of them from the penalty spot.
Rogers' kick to goalkeeper David Nestor's right was waist high and perfectly positioned for the 33-year-old 'keeper to push it around the post with an eye-catching dive.
It meant that Croke’s points from Pat Burke, Mannion and Andrew McGowan between the 50th and 56th minutes ultimately separated the teams.
Kilmacud Croke’s: D Nestor; L Flatman, A McGowan (0-1), R McGowan; C O'Connor (0-1), C O'Shea, C O'Sullivan; C Dias (0-1), C Casey; S Horan, C Pearson (0-3), S Cunningham (0-1); P Mannion (0-5, 0-2 frees), D Mullin (1-2), P Burke (0-3, 0-1 free). Subs: A Jones for R McGowan (36), K Dyas for Horan (47), T Fox for Cunningham (55), S Williams for Mullin (62),
Black cards: R Ryan for O'Connor (62), Dias (65, not replaced)
Portlaoise: G Brody; F Flanagan, G Saunders, D Seale; C Healy, C Finn, D Holland; C McEvoy, K Lillis (0-1); B Glynn (0-1), C Boyle (0-1), G Dillon (1-0); P Cahillane (1-3, 0-1 free), B McCormack (0-1), R Maher (0-1). Subs: C Rogers (1-0) for Maher (36), S Lawless for McCormack (47), A Rafter for Glynn (55), C Finn for Holland (58).
Ref: D Coldrick (Meath).