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Thursday 13 December 2018

Perfect time for Crokes' young guns to fire

Portlaoise's woes against Dublin clubs to continue

POISE: Shane Cunningham of Kilmacud Crokes gets the ball away under pressure from Padraic Clarke of St Jude’s in the Dublin final
Photo: Daire Brennan
POISE: Shane Cunningham of Kilmacud Crokes gets the ball away under pressure from Padraic Clarke of St Jude’s in the Dublin final Photo: Daire Brennan

For similar reasons, it wasn't possible to fully assess the provincial title-winning credentials of either of these two teams after their respective quarter-finals.

In Navan, on an afternoon when a sombre note sounded for club football in Meath, Kilmacud Crokes accelerated and then eased to a 13-point dismantling of St Peter's, Dunboyne.

The day was largely unremarkable.

As part of an ongoing theme, Paul Mannion scored 2-6 and then limped off with the injury that has apparently nagged him over the past few weeks - while he has produced the best club football of his life.

Indeed Crokes were so confident in their ability to win that game, they could afford the luxury of having Cian O'Sullivan in a purely watching brief, safely home from his own stag party in Madrid just a few hours earlier.

Astute

He even took part in the warm-down. Other than serving as a reminder of Mannion's explosive abilities and the astute organisation of a young and melded defence, the day did little for Crokes except extend their season to this challenging point.

At the same time in Newbridge, meanwhile, Portlaoise beat defending Leinster champions Moorefield in St Conleth's Park.

Yet equally, their candidacy was cloaked in the short-comings of others.

Not that Portlaoise's efforts didn't warrant the win.

But much of their return came gift-wrapped in the first half.

KEY MAN: Cian O’Sullivan of Kilmacud Crokes in action against Darren O’Reilly of Ballyboden St Enda’s. Photo: Sportsfile
KEY MAN: Cian O’Sullivan of Kilmacud Crokes in action against Darren O’Reilly of Ballyboden St Enda’s. Photo: Sportsfile

Tom Corley, Moorefield's goalkeeper this year in the absence of Tom Kinsella, endured a disastrous first half, albeit amid horrific weather conditions.

Just as they threw the ball in for what was expected to be a high-octane encounter, in line with the victory Moorefield snatched at the death a year ago in Portlaoise, the dense, dark clouds over Newbridge gathered.

The wind swirled unpredictably but mostly into Corley's face.

And the rain fell at such a pelt, it actually looked like it might hurt.

Anyway, Corley failed to collect four fairly routine balls, one of which led to Craig Rogers's tap-in goal, while another preceded one of Paul Cahillane's three first-half frees.

His kick-outs meanwhile, were mostly frustrating - and on many occasions, destructive - events.

By our reckoning, Moorefield lost over 70pc of their first-half restarts.

Portlaoise midfielder Ciarán McEvoy voraciously attacked everything that went long, while two kicks simply limped out over the sidelines.

There was blame attributable elsewhere also.

Moorefield made basic handling errors. The purpose of their support running wasn't always obvious.

And Portlaoise's policy of pressing up and aggressively compressing the space around the Kildare champions' half-back line paid off big time.

And by way of providing mitigation for Corley's woes, Graham Brody, Portlaoise's All Star nominated keeper, made a clanger himself in the same goals in less stressful weather conditions in the second half.

But by half-time - when Moorefield replaced their goalkeeper - they were seven points down. And that left Portlaoise in an ideal situation.

With the wind dying and McEvoy dominant in midfield, they collected most of their second-half kick-outs and with 'Bruno' McCormack serving as a brutish target man on the edge of the square, they played effective counter-attacking football all the way to the death.

McCormack is 37 but his ability to win ball hasn't dulled with age.

He kicked two points but the way in which he linked with captain Paul Cahillane was remarkably efficient.

Cahillane himself kicked 0-7 (3f) on one of those days he often has when it looks like he can't miss.

And for what it's worth, no team can be more motivated at this time of year than Portlaoise. They have turned the Laois SFC into a prolonged inevitability of late.

Yet of the 11 times they have played in Leinster in the last 12 years, they have only won once - in 2009. And mostly, it has been Dublin clubs who have ruined their Christmas.

Portlaoise's last victory against Dublin opposition in this competition came against Crokes back in 2004.

Capital

But since then, they've lost seven straight matches against the representatives of the capital, including a defeat to Kilmacud in 2010.

This time around, Portlaoise can more than match them for physicality and experience, and in McCormack, Cahillane and Craig Rogers, they have serious scoring power.

In goals, Brody's shot-stopping has been exceptional all year and he continues his bold ploy of offering an 'out ball' when his team is under pressure with possession.

This will be an entirely new test, however. Just three of the Crokes team from 2010 are expected to play tomorrow: David Nestor, O'Sullivan and Pat Burke.

In the meantime, they have built a technically sound, well-structured defence - a unit that has conceded just a single Championship goal all year.

Up front, Callum Pearson, Shane Cunningham and Dara Mullin are beginning to blossom, while in Mannion, they have the best forward still playing in the country.

It should be more than enough.

ODDS: Kilmacud Crokes 2/5, Draw 15/2, Portlaoise 5/2

VERDICT: Kilmacud Crokes

LEINSTER CLUB SFC semi

KILMACUD C v PORTLAOISE

(Parnell Pk, Tomorrow, 1.30)

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