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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Lesson learned for round two

IT'S 'take two' for Portlaoise and Clara tomorrow in O'Moore Park (2.15) as their Leinster club semi-final throws in again just six days after the original fixture was abandoned following a mere 33 minutes of apocolyptical downpours at the same venue.

The weather may not have helped either team and if forecasts are to be believed, the re-fixture won't exactly be played in tropical conditions either. But what better way to prepare for such an important match than the mini preview we got last week?

Certainly, Portlaoise boss John Mulligan has taken a few things on board, not least the necessity of denying Thomas Deehan the sort of possession and room in which he thrived last week.

By the end of the first half, Deehan had kicked four points and his long-range shot had also set up Clara's goal. Mulligan responded by moving Cahir Healy back to man the corner from centre-back but if Deehan cuts loose again tomorrow, Mulligan can't say he wasn't warned.

"The likes of Thomas Deehan and these forwards, we knew about them going into the game anyway," says Mulligan. "We knew they were very skillful players, very dangerous players and they proved that last Sunday. The only thing about it is as the game went on, we started to get a grip on it so in that sense, we were very disappointed that the game was called off."

Mulligan lead Portlaoise to their third Laois county title in a row this year and despite being favourites for Leinster, the team have had to scale a few hefty obstacles en route. "We lost our full-back, Seán Cotter, to a cruciate ligament injury," Mulligan explains. "Brian Fitzgerald hasn't played football all year so he was a major loss to us. Colm Parkinson transferred up to Dublin (Parnells)."

Their greatest loss, though, was the now Australia-based Zach Touhy, who shone throughout the county success.

"He really came of age for us this year," says Mulligan. "We played him at centre-forward there in the league and championship for us. He was one of our main players. He was one of the main players in the county. He was a huge, huge loss to us. We've had to put Aidan Fennelly in there from corner-back. It's not easy to fill Zach's position. Not alone was he a good footballer, he was a very good free-taker as well."

Back on the subject on last Sunday and Mulligan was pleased the reaction of players to something which qualifies as a new dilemma this year: trailing a match early on. They failed to match Clara's initial burst, though they did manage to reel the Offaly men in with a splurge of fine points as half-time approached and according to Mulligan, it bodes well.

"Up to now, we've gotten big starts to games," he says. "We know that can't happen to us every day. There's days, like last Sunday, where you're going to go behind. They're gong to be a test of character. And that happened last Sunday. We did go behind. We had to draw ourselves back into it.

"We're probably known as a fine weather team. We do have to change our pattern of play a small bit. Last Sunday's game was a great education for us because it was the first time this year that we've had to play in conditions like that. In that sense, we'd have learned a lot from last Sunday."

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