Masterful Portumna are club hurling champions

March 17, 2008
Portumna claimed the All-Ireland club hurling championship with a stunning 3-19 to 3-9 victory over Birr in the decider at Croke Park. Despite conceding two goals inside the first ten minutes, the winners eventually got into their stride to lead by 1-11 to 2-4 at the break. Simon Whelehan opened the scoring from a first-minute free after he had been fouled himself and Birr's dream start continued when Stephen Browne tapped the ball to an empty net after a high delivery deceived Portumna goalkeeper Ivan Canning Joe Canning steadied the Galway champions with a fifth-minute free and there were no more scores until centre forward Kevin Hayes doubled Portumna's tally with a fine strike from play. In the tenth minute Paul O'Meara got Birr's second goal when he flicked Barry Whelehan's dangerous delivery to the net. Damien Hayes replied immediately with a Portumna point and the Connacht club were unfortunate when Niall Hayes' first-time strike rolled inches outside the post. Midfielder Leo Smith got Portumna's fourth point after Joe Canning had uncharacteristically fumbled possession. Andrew Smith then improvised superbly to grab Portumna's opening goal to level the score at 1-4 to 2-1. The wing forward appeared to have lost his chance after his original attempt was hooked but he remained calm and kicked the loose sliothar past advancing goalkeeper Brian Mullins to the net from an acute angle. Rory Hanniffy pointed for Birr and Simon Whelehan added another score after persisting to gather possession from Brian Whelehan's pass. Andrew Smith halved the gap with a nice point on 17 minutes and they were level again when Joe Canning landed a whopping free from inside his own half. Portumna were awarded a soft penalty when Damien Hayes went to ground and Joe Canning took it on the stroke of the 20th minute. His shot was blocked on the line and Brian Whelehan was on hand to clear the ball. Mullins spilled the ball out for a cheap 65 and Joe Canning measured his shot superbly to put Portumna ahead for the first time, 1-7 to 2-3. Simon Whelehan (free) and Damien Hayes traded points before Kevin Hayes blasted one over after good work by Damien Hayes and Joe Canning. Portumna full back Eugene McEntee got up and played on after being knocked unconscious by a blow to the head - I'd like to see a Premiership star doing that some day! From the resultant free, Joe Canning stretched the gap with a monster free from all of 40 yards inside his own half. Andrew Smith swivelled to drop a nice shot over the Birr crossbar and Joe Canning was bemused when his effort was ruled wide in the second minute of added time. The shot appeared to have dissected the posts but it didn't count and the margin was four at the break. Portumna were playing into the breeze in the second half but Damien Hayes didn't seem to mind as he floated the ball between the posts after mere seconds. Andrew Smith then danced through the Birr rearguard and rounded the 'keeper to tap the ball to an empty net. Suddenly, there was clear daylight between the teams: 2-12 to 2-4. At the other end, Birr were having little luck. Brian Whelehan saw his shot come back off a post and Gary Hanniffy kicked a low shot inches wide into the sidenetting. When Joe Canning popped over a free, there were nine points in it and no way back for the rattled Offaly and Leinster champions. Simon Whelehan sent a free wide before Brian Whelehan finally opened Birr's second-half account with a lovely point off his left side seven minutes in. Joe Canning struck an exquisite point after gathering possession from brother Ivan, but Simon Whelehan knocked over a Birr free to keep the gap at eight. Birr were almost in for a third three-pointer when Brian Whelehan's centre rolled across the face of goal but Kevin Hayes floated over a great 60-metre point into the Hill end to make it 2-15 to 2-6. Simon Whelehan popped over a brace of frees and, in between, Birr were unfortunate when the ball ricocheted off Ollie Canning's stick inches outside the post for a 65. Joe Canning magically clipped a trademark sideline cut straight between the posts to increase the gap to eight points again, with eleven minutes left. In the 50th minute, Damien Hayes sprinted around his man and slammed a brilliant shot into the top corner of the net from an acute angle. Joe Canning added a majestic point and it was now embarrassing for Birr: 3-17 to 2-8. Nine minutes from the end, Simon Whelehan's low free somehow crept past a statuesque forest of Portumna defenders to the back of the net to bring the differential back to nine, but there was no way back. Joe Canning knocked over a couple of frees and Simon Whelehan closed the scoring with an injury-time free. Brian Whelehan was sent off for an off-the-ball offence in the dying moments before Ollie Canning had the honour of lifting the Tommy Moore Cup. Portumna: I Canning; M Gill, E McEntee, O Canning (capt); G Heagney, M Ryan, P Smith; L Smith (0-1), E Lynch; A Smith (2-2), K Hayes (0-2), N Hayes; D Hayes (1-3), J Canning (0-10), D Canning. Subs: 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, 0-1)), R Hanniffy (0-1), N Claffey; Barry Whelahan, P O'Meara (1-0); S Ryan, G Hanniffy, B Watkins; S Whelahan (1-7), D Hayden, S Browne (1-0). Subs: 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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