Indications of events to come were shown when Portlaoighise and Ballacolla drew 3-3 apiece at Clonad in the championship 1928.
The team was: John Dunne (captain), Jimmy Fortune (goalie), Mick Dunne, Ger Kelly, Mick Conroy, Paddy Dunne. Paddy Doran, Bill Quilan, Lar Cushion, Andy Carter. Jimmv Dargan, William Carroll, Mick Nolan, Jim Quinn, M. Holohan.
This was a promising display by the “Town” hurlers. Portiaoise won the replay at Abbeyleix but Ballacolla objected on the grounds that Andy Carter being a member of the Hollow was ineligible to play for Portlaoighise. Mr. Barrett (Portlaoighise) told the County Board meeting that the obiection should not be considered as it did not comply with Irish language rule. The Chairman, Lar Brady, read the rule and decided the objecion was out of order. Having got over this hurdle, Portlaoighise moved on to the semi-final in which they beat Rathdownev by 9-3 to 3-1.
The Nationalist preview of the game told of the impressive progress of both teams to the final clash which whipped up huge interest especially in the town and surrounding areas. Having detailed Portlaoise’s path through the championship the report told of the equally impressive run of Clonad despite being weakened by emigration. On 27 May, they beat the “ex-juniors”, Camross by 6 goals to 3 and then shocked Abbeyleix in the semi-final by 3-1 to 1-2 in what was categorised as surely the surprise of the year. This set up a final between two great neighbouring rivals, both of whom were contesting the final for the first time. The sides had already met in a Feis Medal match which the “Town” won fairly comfortably. But the report added that Clonad were expected to field a stronger team with Billy Morrissey and Ned Parkinson available again and predicted that “it will be a game worthy of the best traditions of the Gael … no matter which side wins we are promised a great game where no quarter will be given or asked for… The revered Laois Gael and former hurling star, Pete Daly, of Rathdowney was referce.
In the report the final played at O’Moore Park on 26 October 1928, it stated that “the general opinion was that, granted a fine day with quick going the lighter and faster Portlaoighise team would win … but those of that opinion reckoned without Clonad”. In a game played in a very sporting manner “no mean tactics were introduced by either side from start to finish both defences were well on top and the attacking forces were well subdued. Lar Brady and his fellow backs prevented the opposing forwards from getting through and the pity was that Portlaoighise did not ‘open’ the game more and swing the ball from wing to wing. On the other side Jack Dunne and his co-workers were equally good with the youthtul Mick Dunne ever in the picture. Jack Conroy and Paddy Fitzgibbons did best in the half-back line for the vanquished while the victors were also ably well served by all three, Mick Conroy, Paddy Dunne and Paddy Doran. The latter was outstanding even if he did not reach the heights of his performance against Rathdowney. Ger Kelly and Bill Quinlan were also prominent for the winners … Doran got a bad knock in the second half when he came in collision with a sideline seat. Happily no bones were broken and he had the satisfaction of scoring the winning point … Both goalkeepers, Bergin and Fortune did what was required of them … Special praise is due to Messrs. Farrell and McEvoy who acted as trainers to the Portlaoise team for a fortnight previous to the game. By the way whoever got the Clonad team into form is also worthy of congratulations”.
The report continued: “It was seen that Dargan was off the ‘town team’ owing to an injury. Portlaoighise were playing into the town goal but Clonad were first to move forward … Ger Kelly put his forwards in possession but Lar Brady was not to be caught napping … Mick Nolan helped Lar Cushion to get the opening point after 12 minutes play … then came a Clonad burst and forced a free fifty yards out. Sean Conroy was entrusted with the puck. He placed well in the goalmouth and Fortune was beaten by either Tom Brady or W.Morrissey for a goal after 23 minutes play.”
This left Clonad in the lead by 1-0 to 0-1 at the interval. On the restart Ger Kelly shot a point for Portlaoighise and then crashed home a goal but “to the dismay of the team and followers” the score was disallowed owing to a “square” infringement. Around the three-quarter stage, Andy Carter shot over the equaliser and just when visions of a drawn game became apparent, carter forced A “70”. The all-important free was entrusted to Paddy Doran. “A lot depended on Paddy’s aim. Would he score? Advice was freely given. He lifts, and the ball sails over for the winning point. Still Clonad are not beaten! They fight back and John Dunne was busy clearing. Costigan and Fitzgibbons try to open up the play and Fortune was just in time to beat the Clonad forwards, while a moment later, Mick Dunne (‘Butcher’) clears when the situation is dangerous .. And so the ‘Town’ survived to win their first senior hurling title. The club would not win another for fifteen years and would not register a third success until 1981, 53 years later.
The team was: Jimmy Fortune (goal), John Dunne (The Hill, Captain), Mick Dunne (Main Street, “The Butcher”), John Kelly (Bloomfield), Mick Conroy (Harpur’s Lane), Paddy Dunne (Tower Hill), Paddy Doran (“Guy”, Borris Road), Jim Quinn, Ger Kelly (Kellyville Park), Bill Quinlan (Abbeyleix Road), Andy Carter (Mountrath Road), Mick Nolan, Larry Cushion (Grattan Street), John Hogan (The Army), Billy Carroll.
Subs: Tom Whelan, Jimmy Dargan (Green Road), John Delaney (Ridge Road), D. O’Brien, C. McAuliffe, Joe Lalor, M. Holohan, P. Dunne. Clonad: Ned Bergin, Johnny Fitzgibbons, Lar Brady, Ned Hennessy, Jack Conroy, Paddy Whelan, Pat Fitzgibbons, Mick Costigan, Tom Brady, T. Donovan, Jack Galvin, Ned Forde, Billy Morrissey, Ned Parkinson, Andy Doogue.
Referee: Pete Daly (Rathdowney).
Lar Brady visited the Portlaoighise dressing-room after the game and congratulated the winning team on bringing the title to the Leix end of the county. This sporting gesture was acknowledged by all and Lar Cushion replied on behalf of Portlaoighise. The team were guests of the local Labour Club at an all-night dance in the Town Hall later on that Sunday night. In the football final of 1928, Stradbally beat Graiguecullen by 1-4 to 1-2. Portlaoise and Mountrath drew in a junior football tie at Mountmellick 1-1 apiece in a game played in a downpour. On 28 November 1928, Mr. R. P. Fennell retired as Postmaster. Mr. Robert Leslie, Overseer, and Mr. James Dunne, Postman, made him a presentation of a wireless loudspeaker receiving set.
A report in the Nationalist of the period gave a fixture involving Laois and Offaly in the minor football championship with Portarlington, as champions, having the selection of the team. Sean Nós* wrote: “I would impress on the team that they must use the Irish language and no other on the field of play”
*Sean Barrett, known to the Gaelic public of Laois as Sean Nós, who was a well known correspondent of GAA games. He was an officer of the club and county for some years.