Schedule takes heavy toll

Story by Fergal Lynch

Wednesday, 11th November, 2009 4:59pm

The history books will indicate that Seneschalstown were comprehensively trounced by Portlaoise in the Leinster Club SFC quarter-final at O'Moore Park on Sunday, but what the records won't show were the injustices and hard luck that the Meath champions had to endure.

Requests to both Portlaoise and Leinster Council for a postponement fell on deaf ears and so Seneschalstown were forced to play their third game in eight days, just over 65 hours after claiming their second Keegan Cup in three years - the effects were obvious.

The exertions of last Thursday night's SFC final replay victory over Wolfe Tones took a heavy toll on Seneschalstown legs, so much so that manager Damien Sheridan was forced into three changes before half-time. After conceding two goals in the opening nine minutes it was obvious Seneschalstown would struggle in such a tough battle.

However, despite nothing going their way and the lack of compassion shown by both Portlaoise and Leinster Council, Seneschalstown dug deep into their reserves of pure grit and determination and produced a type of performance that they can be very proud of.

If they had enjoyed a little bit more good fortune in front of goals they could have caused a major surprise, but lady luck did not shine kindly on them as all the breaks seemed to go Portlaoise's way and they took full advantage.

Following their 2-21 to 0-2 victory over Louth champions Mattock Rangers in the opening round Portlaoise were raging hot favourites to account for Seneschalstown, but they faced a tougher test than they would have expected as the Meath champions battled bravely for every ball and refused to give up the fight, even when the result was beyond doubt.

Take nothing away from Portlaoise, they are an excellent side. However, if Sunday's game was played on a level playing field Seneschalstown would have rattled their hosts and the outcome could have been much different.

After playing a starring role in Thursday's replay victory over Wolfe Tones the Sheridan brother Damien, Joe and Brian were once again superb. Joe and Damien covered every blade of grass in O'Moore Park while Brian made a mockery of his youth with a display that will warm the hearts of all Meath supporters for 2010.

There were times when Seneschalstown were pinned to their collars and looked in for a good hiding, but there were also occasions when their direct style of football had Portlaoise on the rack and the Laois champions couldn't cope with the long direct ball into either Joe Sheridan or Robert Ruddy.

Even after conceding a goal inside three minutes Seneschalstown could have gone in front as they missed out on golden goal opportunities either through wayward shooting or sheer bad luck.

Portlaoise were excellent and moved the ball well, as a result they forced Seneschalstown to chase them and that tactic didn't suit the tired limbs of the visitors.

It was obvious before the throw-in what state Seneschalstown were in. Physio Mary Sheridan was the busiest person on the pitch as she applied muscle creams and administered massages to several players before the start. The weariness was obvious when Barry Fitzgerald set up Brian Glynn to waltz through the Seneschalstown defence and blast a superb goal to open the scoring after three minutes.

From the kick-out Portlaoise were fortunate to be allowed win possession after referee Tom Quigley failed to notice Fitzgerald half blocking David Lyons kick-out while inside the 13-metre exclusion and Aidan Fennelly pointed his only score.

Staring a hammering in the face, Seneschalstown settled. Shane Clarke's free opened the Meath side's account and two minutes later Brian Sheridan should have netted, but under significant pressure from Michael Nolan he blasted over the bar.

Seneschalstown's recovery was interrupted when Brian McCormack's long ball was knocked down by Fitzgerald to Paul Cahillane and the corner-forward buried the ball in the net to leave Portlaoise with a 2-1 to 0-2 advantage.

A free from Fitzgerald stretched that lead, but Seneschalstown continued to create chances as Stephen Finnegan went close, his flicked effort was cleared off the line by the excellent Cahir Healy.

Fatigue was a contributory factor in allowing Peter McNulty stretch Portlaoise's lead, but a 13-metre free from Brian Sheridan settled Seneschalstown and they squandered another decent goal chance when a promising move broke down with Brian Sheridan's pass not finding Robert Ruddy.

A fourth clear-cut goal chance was also squandered by Shane Clarke when he benefited from Joe Sheridan's long delivery, but blasted the ball over the bar to make it 0-4 to 2-3. Despite being under pressure Portlaoise did manage to pull clear with scores from Fitzgerald (two frees) and Glynn after Lyons had brilliantly denied Fennelly a goal.

Seneschalstown continued to be profligate with their chances.

Brian Sheridan missed a 23-metre free and substitute Bryan Clarke was unusually wayward from a '45' either side of a superb Finnegan point that left the Meath champions 0-5 to 2-6 adrift at half-time.

Any positivity that Seneschalstown held at half-time was wiped out in the opening 10 minutes of the second-half. Despite a magnificent score from Joe Sheridan, Portlaoise took control of the game with points from Fitzgerald (three frees) and Kieran Lillis making it 2-10 to 0-6. The issue was put beyond doubt in the 43rd minute when Cahillane was quickest to react to Lyons' great save and netted Portlaoise's third goal.

Peter McNulty floated over his second score before Stephen Sheridan gave the huge Seneschalstown following something to cheer about when he followed up Joe Sheridan's shot that was well saved by Nolan and slid the ball to the net.

Despite that goal Seneschalstown were out for the count, but they never gave up. Glynn closed Portlaoise's account before Lyons made two miraculous saves to deny Conor Boyle and Brian Smyth. The closing minutes epitomised Seneschalstown's spirit as they piled on the pressure in search of a late consolation that never came. However, they left the field to rapturous roars of approval and they can now take a hard earned break.

Portlaoise - Michael Nolan; Eoin Bland, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Malachy McNulty; Brian Mulligan, Cahir Healy, Kieran Lillis (0-1); Adrian Kelly, Brian McCormack; Brian Glynn (1-2), Aidan Fennelly (0-1), Craig Rogers; Paul Cahillane (2-0), Barry Fitzgerald (0-6, frees), Peter McNulty (0-2). Subs - Colm Byrne for Kelly 45 mins, Conor Boyle for P McNulty 51m, Brian Smyth for Fitzgerald 51m, Jack Fennell for Fennelly 56m, Paul Cotter for M McNulty 56m.

Seneschalstown - David Lyons; Paul Carey, Andrew Collins, Gerry Sheridan; Mark Carey, Joe Cowley, Stephen Sheridan (1-0); Robert Ruddy, Damien Sheridan; Gary Conlon, Ciaran Macken, Stephen Finnegan (0-1); Brian Sheridan (0-2, one free), Joe Sheridan (0-1), Shane Clarke (0-2, one free). Subs - James Byrne for P Carey 15 mins, Bryan Clarke for Macken 22m, Cormac Duffy for Ruddy 33m, Adam Gleeson for S Clarke 38m, Tommy Ledwidge for Finnegan 57m.

Referee - Tom Quigley (Dublin).

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