Portumna 2-24; De La Salle 1-8
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The dream ended in somewhat nightmarish circumstances for De La Salle at a sun-kissed headquarters yesterday but in truth there was no shame in this All-Ireland Club Final defeat.
For if both Lee Hayes and Stephen Brenner had goaled and had the Munster champions struck their six wides between the posts, they would still have been seven shy of magnificent Portumna.
Now, most match reports follow a structure: get the ‘who won, who lost’ bit out of the way first.
Then you list the key incidents and potential turning points and throw in one’s two cents on the players that made it happen as well as those who didn’t.
Then you wrap it up, check the subs and scorers, fill out the expenses form, hit ‘send’ and head for home.
Yet the nature of the two-in-a-row winners’ performance means that particular scripting formula must be dispensed with, for Portumna are no ordinary team.
The Galway men, surely without equal in the history of club hurling, a side with as much steel in their game as splendour and with class to match their cunning, were a joy to watch.
And for all inside this hallowed arena, their stunning demonstration of our national game’s greatest skills proved a privilege to witness.
For theirs is a team which contains some masterful practitioners, with the astonishing Joe Canning surely set to enter the halcyon of hurling’s greatest ever exponents.
That in sporting terms he is still but a boy makes his genius all the more intriguing, the thought of what he may produce a half-dozen seasons from now simply terrifying from an opponent’s perspective.
Canning struck nine points, seven from frees, two of those converted from inside his own 65.
You could literally hear the awe around Headquarters as this colossal performer did what all the greats do: make every element of the game look ludicrous in its simplicity.
After 18 minutes, he drew a few white and red shirts in his direction, spotting the arcing run of the dynamic Damien Hayes behind him.
Looking away from his team-mate, Canning hand passed the ball over his shoulder and into the path of the onrushing Hayes, who zipped forward to drill the ball low to Brenner’s left hand side.
It put Portumna seven points up – as close as their Waterford opponents would get to them thereafter.
Two minutes later, Canning had the De La Salle defence baffled with a beautiful lift of the sliothar as he tapped it against his boot, sending it upwards and onto his hurl.
Seconds after that, the roaming full-forward had bisected the posts with another free to put the champions eight ahead. De La Salle, desperate for some possession and try as they undoubtedly did, just couldn’t get into the game.
Owen Dunphy knew his team’s margin for error was microcosmic against such clinical opposition. That’s why Lee Hayes needed to stick away his seventh minute goalscoring opportunity, which would have put the Gracedieu men two points ahead. Despite having enough space to deploy his hurl, Hayes chose to kick towards goal, with Portumna netminder Ivan Canning proving equal to the task.
To compound the miss, the sliothar was immediately deployed upfield to Niall Hayes, another Portumna livewire, who shot over another point – effectively a four point swing to the champions in a matter of seconds.
Desperately looking for a foothold into the match, De La Salle simply couldn’t afford to concede another goal before half-time.
Having dealt with a Páidí Nevin shot that fell short of the target, Ivan Canning rifled the sliothar downfield, but corner back Alan Kelly was alive to the danger – or so it appeared.
Sadly, Kelly dropped the incoming ball, an error ruthlessly capitalised upon by Damien Hayes, who slammed a shot beyond the powerless Brenner to extend Portumna’s advantage to 13.
Within two minutes, points from Kevin Hayes and a further two from Canning had made a bad situation altogether worse for the Waterford side.
A glimmer of hope was provided in the third minute of injury time when Dean Twomey was fouled following a Bryan Phelan pass, leaving referee James McGrath with no option but to award a penalty.
Up stepped Stephen Brenner, who struck the ball well but a foot over the crossbar which, added to Phelan’s two successful frees left De La Salle 14 points down at the break.
Despite Canning adding another free within the opening minute of the second half, De La Salle began brightly, with substitute Thomas Kearney scoring two excellent points in the 32nd and 33rd minutes.
Dunphy’s men needed something to happen fast but Niall and Damien Hayes notched further points to extend Portumna’s advantage to 15 points.
In the 40th minute, De La Salle finally breached the Galway citadel, as Nevin tapped in from a few inches after an almighty goalmouth scramble.
Seconds later, John Mullane saw all forward avenues blocked and retreated outfield in an attempt to find a team-mate, but his intended pass was intercepted by the omnipresent Canning. Mullane’s frustration was as evident as Canning’s brilliance.
Thereafter, the match was largely processional. Canning struck the post as he attempted to convert his second sideline cut of the game while Brenner made a smart save to deny Hayes a hat-trick in the 51st minute.
As if he needed to demonstrate any more brilliance, Joe Canning swivelled on a six pence in the shadow of the Hogan Stand and picked out Eoin Lynch with a beautiful crossfield ball, which the midfielder duly pointed from.
While both managers emptied their respective benches, it was inevitable that John Mullane, who had spearheaded the De La Salle fairytale, would score his club’s last point of a marathon season.
It was of scant consolation to the captain on a day clearly destined to be Portumna’s long before the final whistle.
While the footballers of Kilmacud and Crossmaglen were limbering up ahead of their decider, Joe Canning was still on the pitch side, signing autographs and shaking dozens of outstretched hands.
It would appear that off the field is the only place anyone looks likely to get a mitt on this extraordinary talent for many years to come.
De La Salle: Stephen Brenner; Alan Kelly, Ian Flynn, Michael Doherty; Darren Russell, Kevin Moran, Stephen Daniels; Bryan Phelan, Conan Watt; Páidí Nevin, John Mullane, Lee Hayes; Dean Twomey, Derek McGrath, David Greene. Substitutes: Thomas Kearney for Hayes (11 mins), Brian Farrell for McGrath (17 mins), James Quirke for Farrell (half-time), Alan O’Neill for Watt (56 mins), Dermot Dooley for Twomey (56 mins).
Scorers: Nevin (1-0), Kearney (0-2), Phelan (0-2f), Quirke (0-1f), S Brenner, D Russell and J Mullane (0-1 each).
Portumna: Ivan Canning; Martin Dolphin, Eugene McEntee, Ollie Canning; Garret Heagney, Michael Ryan, Aiden O’Donnell; E Lynch, L Smith; N Hayes, K Hayes, A Smith; D Hayes, J Canning, C Ryan. Substitutes: David Canning for Ryan (56 mins), Mike Gill for Heagney (57 mins), Peter Smith for L Smith (57 mins), Pierce Treacy for O’Donnell (60 mins), John O’Flaherty for McEntee (60 mins).
Scorers: J Canning (0-9, 0-7f, 0-1s), D Hayes (2-2), N Hayes (0-4), K Hayes and A Smith (0-2 each), E Lynch, L Smith, E McEntee, M Ryan and D Canning (0-1 each).
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).