On November 20th 1971 Portlaoise started their glorious Leinster run by beating Ferbane in the first round, 2-8 to 0-13. Offaly star, Tony McTague proved a sterling opponent and the Grogans too but Portlaoise compensated for their single point defeat in the first Leinster championship by Offaly opposition, Gracefield, in the previous campaign to take this thriller also by a single point.
The “Town” fielded short of Teddy Fennelly, Pascal Delaney and Tom O’Reilly and started nervously. But a goal by corner forward, John Walsh, nicknamed “Forney”, from Grattan Street, a player who had never before played senior championship football with the club, put his name in the history books of the club by scoring the vital goal that put Portlaoise on their way to glory and ultimately the club’s first provincial title.
Portlaoise: Mick Mulhall, Mick Murphy, Jim Hughes, Louis Harkin, Tom Walsh, John Grant, Eamonn Whelan, Mick Dooley, Mick McDonald, Brian Delaney, Harry Mulhare (1-1), Cyril O’Meara (0-4), John Walsh (1-0), Barry Larkin, Larry Dunne (0-3).
The remainder of the campaign was played in 1972, resulting in a historic first Leinster club title.
Portlaoise defeated Athlone by 2-11 to 2-9 in a very hard fought and memorable game played on Easter Sunday, the 2nd of April 1972 in Carlow to win a first Leinster club title for the club.
Athlone led for long periods of the game, 1-8 to 0-4 at half time and then 2-9 to 0-4 three minutes after the restart. Having built a formidable reputation of second half fight backs and never-say die spirit, it seemed inevitable that they would rally – but eleven points down and playing second fiddle all over the field, it did not seem possible that they could possibly win from this position. But they did – and the rest is history. They clawed their back valiantly scoring 1-5 without reply to leave a goal between the sides by the end of the third quarter. Now dominating all over the field they went into attack again and Brian Delaney was dragged down in the square. As cool as ice John Fennell neatly slotted home the penalty and the sides were level. Harry Mulhaire put the icing on the cake with two late points to seal a memorable victory.
Portlaoise: Mick Mulhall, Mick Murphy (Capt.), Jim Hughes, Mick McDonald, Tom Walsh, Teddy Fennelly, John Grant, Mick Dooley, Cyril O Meara (0-1), John Fennell (1-6), Harry Mulhare (1-3), Larry Dunne, Brian Delaney (0-1), Pascal Delaney, Mick Carroll.
Sub: Louis Harkin.
The referee was Paul Kelly (Dublin).
The earlier rounds
The route to the final started with victory over Tinryland of Carlow by 1-10 to 0–9, at the Mill Field in Portarlington, having trained by 0-5 to 0-3 at the break.
Portlaoise: Mick Mulhall, Mick Murphy, Jim Hughes, Teddy Fennelly, Tom Walsh (0-1), John Grant, Jim Griffin, Mick McDonald, Mick Dooley (0-1), Larry Dunne (0-1), Harry Mulhare (1-1), Cyril O’Meara, Mick Carroll, John Fennell (0-5), Brian Delaney (0- 1).
Sub: Barry Larkin.
Portlaoise beat Carbury in the Leinster semi-final by 2-8 to 1-8. The Kildare champions fielded a very strong fifteen that included top county stars, Ollie Crinnigan, Pat Mangan and Kevin Kelly and they set the pace in the opening half and they led by 1-4 to 1-3 at the break with a great goal from Harry Mulhaire keeping the “Town” side in touch. The introduction of Pascal Delaney and Eamon Whelan (carrying an injured arm) at the break changed the course of the game and little by little the “Town” gained control. “Atch” shot a point and then Pascal placed his brother Brian for a super goal which put Portlaoise ahead and they held out showing all their great indomitable qualities in great style.
Portlaoise: Mick Mulhall, Mick Murphy, Jim Hughes, Mick McDonald, Tom Walsh, Teddy Fennelly, Jim Griffin, Mick Dooley, Cyril O’Meara, John Fennell, Harry Mulhaire, Larry Dunne, Brian Delaney, Mick Carroll, Barry Larkin.
Subs: Pascal Delaney and Eamon Whelan.
All-Ireland Club Semi-Final
Portlaoise lost narrowly to the Derry champions Bellaghy by 1- 11 to 1-10 at Magherafelt in a thriller. Bellaghy had the edge in the opening half and a goal by Hugh Donnelly helped his side into a 1-6 to 0-5 lead. But it was Portlaoise who dictated the second half and, helped by a goal from Cyril O’Meara, led by a point with a minute remaining. Tall rangy Bellaghy midfielder, Frank O’Loane, got possession and sent over a high speculative kick to level. In a carbon copy score, O’Loane sent over the winner seconds later.
It was a heart-breaking defeat for Portlaoise who gave everything for the cause in a sporting game but hostile setting that was characterised by the sound of British Army helicopters flying over the ground. A huge contingent of fans came by car, bus and whatever means possible to support their side. The venue was in the heart of the troubled North, in which violence was at its very worst and danger lurked everywhere. Had Portlaoise held on for the draw it was odds on that the All-Ireland final was theirs for the winning. Bellaghy went on and captured the coveted title. Portlaoise had to wait another twelve years to gain the honour. The scorers were Cyril O’Meara (1-1), John Fennell (0-4), Pascal Delaney (0-4), Harry Mulhare (0-1).
Portlaoise: Mick Mulhall, Mick Murphy, Jim Hughes, Mick McDonald, Tom Walsh, Teddy Fennelly, John Grant, Mick Dooley, Cyril O’Meara, John Fennell, Pascal Delaney, Brian Delaney, Harry Mulhaire, John Joe Ging, Larry Dunne.
Sub: Louis Harkin.