/ GAA

Portumna 3-19 Birr 3-09

Updated: Monday, 17 Mar 2008 21:19

Brian Whelehan of Birr with Ollie Canning of Portumna
Brian Whelehan of Birr with Ollie Canning of Portumna

Portumna have been crowned AIB All-Ireland senior club champions for the second time in three years after beating a gallant Birr side at Croke Park this afternoon.

Birr made a dream start to their first final since 2003 – forward duo Stephen Browne and Paul O'Meara both registered goals inside the first ten minutes.

But Portumna, with their speed and skill coming to the fore, pulled clear to lead at the interval by 1-11 to 2-04. Andy Smith kicked home a 14th-minute goal and Joe Canning landed four frees.

Teenage star Canning finished with 0-10 and second half goals from Smith and Damien Hayes sealed it for the Galway men, despite the best efforts of Simon Whelahan who led Birr's scoring with a handsome 1-07.

Whelahan's brother Brian, the Birr captain, ended the game standing behind the Davin Stand goal after he received a last-minute red card for striking an opponent.

It was a sorry end to a game that had begun with so much promise for the Leinster champions.

Both Brian and Simon Whelahan got on the ball before the latter pointed a free to send the Offaly outfit into a first-minute lead.

In the third-minute, Brian Watkins dangled a high ball in towards the Portumna square and with goalkeeper Ivan Canning caught flat-footed and defender Mike Gill losing his marker, Stephen Browne leapt unchallenged to bat home to the empty net.

Portumna's initial response was muted. Joe Canning fired a free over from centre-field, however Birr's confidence grew when corner back Michael Verney put Niall Hayes, one of the Galway side's danger men, flat on his back with a hard but fair challenge.

Kevin 'Chunky' Hayes did cut the gap to 1-01 to 0-02 before Birr picked off their second goal.

Again, Portumna's rearguard, perhaps hampered by the sun, failed to deal with a high ball floated in towards their square.

Paul O'Meara rose highest to knock Barry Whelahan's assist past Ivan Canning and the four-time winners were suddenly 2-01 to 0-02 ahead.

Rather than withdraw into themselves, the concession of those goals seemed to sting Ollie Canning and his team-mates into action.

Birr only scored three points over the remaining 20 minutes of the first half, while Portumna notched 1-09 in that time.

They were back level at 2-01 to 1-04 by the midpoint of the half. Damien Hayes knocked over his first point, Leo Smith ended a strong run with a score and then came the westerners' opening goal.

Joe Canning made it as his pass off the ground played the sliotar into the path of the advancing Andy Smith.

Niall Claffey managed to hook Smith, to the left of the square, but the Portumna wing forward showed great poise to tuck the grounded ball past goalkeeper Brian Mullins with his left boot.

Birr pulled two points clear again with overs from Rory Hanniffy and Simon Whelahan, who hared onto a cross-field ball from his brother Brian.

But Portumna dominated up to half-time and would have been further in front at the break but for Joe Canning having a penalty saved.

Points from Andy Smith and Canning (an 80-metre free) squared up the final at 2-03 to 1-06 before Smith's incisive pass from the left led to Damien Hayes drawing a foul from Paul Cleary and a penalty decision from referee John Sexton.

Canning, who scored 1-14 in the lead-up to the final, stepped up to take it but his low shot was stopped on the Birr line by a combination of Cleary and net minder Mullins.

The miss was certainly a set-back for Portumna but two points from Canning, including a free from 105 metres out, allied to efforts from Damien Hayes, Kevin Hayes and Andy Smith swamped a single Simon Whelahan free as the Connacht kingpins took a 1-11 to 2-04 lead into the break.

Birr needed to score first in the second half but after a Damien Hayes point from a tight angle, they had a run of bad luck.

Brian Whelahan watched his point attempt bounce back off the post and, minutes later, Gary Hanniffy right-footed the sliotar into the side-netting when a goal looked on.

Andy Smith's 33rd-minute goal widened the gap between the sides as he controlled a loose ball and had the pace to run through and finish smartly past Mullins.

A Joe Canning free – his fifth point in all – gave Portumna a nine-point margin and all hope of this being a classic final between the Galway-Offaly border rivals was gone.

To their credit, Birr kept plugging away. Brian Whelahan pointed after a pass from his brother Barry and Simon Whelahan was successful with three frees after 39, 44 and 48 minutes.

They missed out on a goal chance when Browne connected with Paul Cleary's long range free and sent the ball narrowly to the left of the Portumna goal.

Canning kept the leaders ticking with a series of placed balls, including an excellent sideline cut from the left that sailed through the uprights.

Just moments later, the Portumna contingent in the 31,246-strong crowd were toasting their side's third goal.

It was a classy finish from Damien Hayes as he evaded his marker, dashed in from the right and blasted a shot into the top left corner of the net.

It was game, set and match to Jimmy Heverin's men as Joe Canning landed a quick point to make it 3-17 to 2-08.

Birr had a late spurt with Simon Whelahan sneaking a 20-metre free into the Portumna net and he also pointed an injury-time free.

But closing efforts from the 19-year-old Canning, after 56 and 59 minutes, ensured that the Tommy Moore Cup will be residing in Galway for the fourth time since 2000. Athenry were also winners back in 2000 and 2001.

Click here for after match reactions

Scorers:

Birr: Simon Whelahan 1-07 (1-06f), Stephen Browne, Paul O'Meara 1-00 each, Rory Hanniffy, Brian Whelahan 0-01 each

Portumna: Joe Canning 0-10 (0-07f, 0-01 sl), Andy Smith 2-02, Damien Hayes 1-03, Kevin Hayes 0-03, Leo Smith 0-01

PORTUMNA: I Canning; M Gill, E McEntee, O Canning (capt); G Heagney, M Ryan, P Smith; L Smith, E Lynch; A Smith, K Hayes, N Hayes; D Hayes, J Canning, D Canning.

Subs used: A O'Donnell for P Smith (57 mins), C Ryan for D Canning (59).

BIRR: B Mullins; JP O'Meara, P Cleary, M Verney; Brian Whelahan (capt), R Hanniffy, N Claffey; Barry Whelahan, P O'Meara; S Ryan, G Hanniffy, B Watkins; S Whelahan, D Hayden, S Browne.

Subs used: M Dwane for Ryan (half-time), P Molloy for O'Meara (38 mins), B Harding for Hayden (52).

Referee: John Sexton (Cork)

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