The Junior A Footballers got their Championship campaign off to a dream start when they faced Portlaoise at The Heath GAA grounds on Wednesday night. Portlaoise had won the Division 3 Final against Stradbally by two goals a few weeks ago – so the as the champions of a league division above the Harps who played in Division 4 finishing mid table – Portlaoise were touted to win this tie with some comfort and ease. The weather was very warm with temperatures still above 25c following the hottest day of the year making for draining conditions for both sets of players.
The Harps opened the game at a tremendous pace kicking over four unanswered points inside the opening six minutes. Bernard Geraghty’s opening point was followed by a free kick converted by James Campion. Pat Walsh and Albert Townsend added to the Harps tally to four points. The following seven minutes saw Portlaoise tighten up in defence to quell the Harps attack and launch counter-attacks which yielded a converted free after eight minutes to open the Division 3 Champions account. Portlaoise, on the fourteenth minute, were the beneficiaries of some dubious umpiring when the ball was deemed to have crossed the line in Ger Alley’s goalmouth. Despite protesting, referee Seamus O’Shea sided with his umpire and the goal stood.
James Campion replied with a pointed free to put the Harps back in front once more. A second yellow card for a Portlaoise defender changed the makeup of the game as the Harps now had an extra man, but credit to Portlaoise, they took the setback in their stride and forged ahead with three points from play. James Campion, on the stroke of half time, kicked over another free for the Harps men to end a fourteen minute barren spell to leave the Half Time score: The Harps 0-06 V 1-05 Portlaoise.
At half time, the Harps management seeking to change things around and make better use of the spare man called Mark White ashore and he was replaced by David Doheny. The opening minutes of the second half saw Portlaoise extend their lead with two long range kicks assisted by the light breeze float over Ger Alley’s crossbar. The Harps though, roared back into the game and began to play some very clever football. Their efforts were rewarded when Bernard Geraghty found space on the edge of the square and drilled his shot to the bottom corner of the net to reduce the margin to the minimum.
James Campion leveled matters from the resulting kickout and his long range effort split the posts. From that resulting kick-out, James Lappin landed awkwardly in the middle of the field and had to be substituted off after physio Ross Young treated his injury – best wishes and a speedy recovery is extended to James. Freddie Townsend came on to replace the injured James Lappin. The Harps regained their earlier lead through three James Campion points – two of which were placed balls. Portlaoise were not gone away though and scored two further points to reduce the margin to the minimum once more.
The final six minutes saw the game come down to the wire. The Harps, through Paul Shortall raised another green flag in the twenty-fifth minute to go four points ahead once more. Thenafter, the Harps packed fifteen men behind the ball for the final five minutes to deny Portlaoise who rained down high ball after high ball to try and grab a goal – but to no avail. The Harps held on for a very much unexpected win and progress to the next round. Final Score: The Harps 2-10 V 1-09 Portlaoise.
Harps: 1 – Ger Alley; 2 – Stephen Thomas; 3 – James Shortall; 4 – Alan O Connell; 5 – Shane Brophy; 6 – Tommy Moore; 7 – Sean Bourke; 8 – Pat Walsh; 9 – James Lappin; 10 – James Campion; 11 – Albert Townsend; 12 – Mark White; 13 – Bernard Geraghty; 14 – Paul Shortall; 15 – Niall Brophy.
Subs: David Doheny for Mark White (30min); Freddie Townsend for James Lappin (40min).
Photo: Tommy Walsh celebrates the win!