Portumna leave Mount Leinster fairytale without happy ending

Joe Canning helps Galway champions ease to their fourth All-Ireland club title

Portumna’s Joe Canning and David Phelan of Mount Leinster during yesterday’s All-Ireland senior club final at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Portumna 0-19 Leinster 0-11

Portumna eased their way to a fourth All-Ireland title here with neither a backward glance nor an apology. Quietly and without ever particularly exerting themselves, they ensured that the yellow brick road along which Mount Leinster Rangers had been travelling came to an abrupt and definitive end.

Portumna have been here before, their role as doleful head-shakers watching on as hopeful clubs try to wedge their feet into glass slippers long established. They did it to De La Salle in 2008, as the Waterford side’s first visit to Croke Park ended with a 19-point tonking. Carlow’s finest didn’t suffer quite the same sort of undressing yesterday but they were never any closer to making Portumna sweat for their reward.

Mindful of the extreme prejudice with which Portumna have polished off these finals in the past – their average winning margin in the three that went before was 11 points – it was probably understandable that Rangers went out with no greater ambition than to keep the Galway champions in sight for as long as possible. They played with seven and sometimes eight defenders and crowded the midfield as much as they could. It made for attritional fare. And yet it achieved its aim, initially at least. Rangers even made the better start offensively, with centre-forward Eddie Byrne scoring a point and getting hauled down for Denis Murphy to nail an early free.

With Joe Canning unconscionably wayward from his first effort, Mount Leinster led 0-3 to 0-1 after 10 minutes. The Carlow side had gone out to make sure the game wasn't lost before they had a chance to get their heads around winning it. Job done.

Never convinced
From that point on, however, they were like the dog who caught the car. Having made sure there was a game to be played, they never convinced as a side that was altogether sure how to play it.


Positioning so many players in defence ensured they got on plenty of ball but much of what followed was ruined by aimless striking that just got swallowed up by a grateful defence. When Portumna wing-back Eoin Lynch was awarded Man of the Match at the end, the only surprise was that he didn’t thank Mount Leinster for their part in his display.

The main difference between the sides, however, was the sheer level of class Portumna had at their fingertips. Joe Canning ended the day with 10 points without being particularly outstanding. His two points from play were poetry all the same, the first on 12 minutes pushing Portumna into a lead they never coughed up from there until they breasted the tape. It was his brother Ollie who caught the eye the most though. Playing at wing-forward, the four-time All Star constantly found gaps between the lines of the Mount Leinster defence. After his half-forward accomplices Kevin Hayes and Damien Hayes both chipped in with stylish points, the elder Canning nicked his first of the day on 20 minutes to put Portumna 0-7 to 0-3 ahead.

It hadn't been spectacular, it hadn't been ferocious, they hadn't mercilessly squashed Mount Leinster underfoot. And yet here they were, four points up against a team that posed no goal threat and couldn't make the ball stick in the full-forward line. Mount Leinster were keeping them in sight, alright. It was just hard to see how they were going to go about getting them in reach. The sides traded points until half-time, sending Portumna in with a 0-9 to 0-5 lead. And when Joe Canning missed with the killshot soon after half-time – his close-in free was smothered on the line – Mount Leinster soon had the margin down to three points thanks to a Denis Murphy free.

Tapping over points
They needed a goal though. Or at least the threat of one to keep Portumna honest. But at no stage did they turn a hair on the heads on the Portumna full-back line, with the result that the Cannings and the Hayeses could just keep tapping over points at the other end.

Two more from Ollie Canning and another from Damien Hayes pushed the lead out to six with 10 minutes to go, 0-15 to 0-9. And though Paul Coady kept to his task at wing-forward for Mount Leinster with two fine points of his own, Portumna were always able to source scores more easily down the other end.

So it goes. Mount Leinster won fans and admirers by the thousands. Portumna won a fourth All Ireland to put them alongside Birr and one behind Ballyhale Shamrocks.

PORTUMNA: K Keane; C O'Hare, E McEntee, G Heagney; P Smith, M Dolphin, E Lynch; L Smith, A Smith; K Hayes (0-2), D Hayes (0-3), O Canning (0-3); R O'Meara (0-1), J Canning (0-10, 0-8 frees), N Hayes. Subs: O Treacy for P Smith (45 mins), P Dolphin for N Hayes (46 mins), O Royston for O'Meara (60 mins)
MOUNT LEINSTER RANGERS: F Foley; M Doyle, G Doyle, G Kelly; Diarmuid Byrne, R Coady, E Coady; Derek Byrne, P Nolan; P Coady (0-3), E Byrne (0-1), D Phelan; D Murphy (0-5, 0-4 frees), J Coady (0-1), E Doyle. Subs: HP O'Byrne (0-1) for Coady, 36 mins; J Murphy for Phelan (51 mins), W Hickey for E Doyle (55 mins), B Nolan for Derek Byrne (59 mins) D Greenan for Diarmuid Byrne.
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times