(Match report from Laois Today)
First half goals from Shaunagh Jackson and Ellen Healy saw Portlaoise crowned Ladies Senior champions for just the second time ever.
Stephen Duff’s charges had to battle really hard against a well drilled St Conleth’s side but those early goals gave them the cushion to hold on.
They led right from the off and then managed to hold possession for the majority of the final five minutes to edge a one point game.
St Conleth’s started the game well as they won the throw in with Aoife Kirrane charging forward and pointing them ahead.
Portlaoise responded via Susie Delaney and then struck the front with their first goal. Shaunagh Jackson latched onto a long ball and drove a shot to the corner of the net.
St Conleth’s responded with a brace from Niamh Cullen but Portlaoise moved 1-2 to 0-3 ahead at the midpoint of the half thanks to Fiona Dooley.
The same player added another point shortly after as Conleth’s responded through Shifra Havill.
But Portlaoise would grab a second goal before half time. Fiona Dooley’s shot dropped short and caused chaos near the St Conleth’s goal.
Naoime Luttrell challenged for it with Shauna Dooley and Ellen Healy but the latter got the decisive touch and the ball ended up in the net.
St Conleth’s finished the half well with points from Shifra and Alanna Havill but Portlaoise led 2-3 to 0-7 at half time.
Shifra Havill cut the gap to one when play resumed and Conleth’s were then thankful to keeper Naomi Luttrell who made a stunning save to deny Shaunagh Jackson from point blank range.
The game went scoreless then for 13 minutes before a huge moment occurred just before the final quarter.
St Conleth’s were reduced to 14 when Shifra Havill was sin binned for a foul on Ellen Healy and then Sarah Anne Fitzgerald scored Portlaoise’s first point of the half.
That made it 2-4 to 0-8 but Portlaoise’s numerical advantage did not last long as Aisling Saunders followed Havill to the bin and Alanna Havill converted a free to cut the gap to one with ten minutes to go.
Sub Holly Hanway then had the chance to give St Conleth’s the lead but her shot was excellently saved by Sarah Fleming in the Portlaoise goal.
Shaunagh Jackson converted a free with 55 minutes on the clock to put two between them.
But Alanna Havill replied as both teams returned to 15 a side for the closing moments.
And it was here where Portlaoise used all their experience to see out the win and claim their second ever title.
SCORERS – Portlaoise: Shaunagh Jackson 1-1 (0-1 free), Ellen Healy 1-0, Fiona Dooley 0-2, Susie Delaney 0-1, Sarah Anne Fitzgerald 0-1.
St Conleth’s: Shifra Havill 0-4 (three frees), Alanna Havill 0-3 (two frees), Niamh Cullen 0-2, Aoife Kirrane 0-1
PORTLAOISE: Sarah Fleming; Kirsten Keenan, Rebecca Reddin, Aoibhe O’Brien; Susie Delaney, Ellen Healy, Ciara Byrne; Fiona Dooley, Aisling Saunders; Grainne Moran, Shaunagh Jackson, Alison Taylor; Shauna Dooley, Sarah Ann Fitzgerald, Aisling Kehoe. Subs: Laura Nerney for O’Brien (35), Leah Loughman for Dooley (45), Deirdre Phelan for Moran (54)
ST CONLETH’S: Naomi Luttrell; Nicole Havill, Mary Cotter, Melissa Donnelly; Fiona Dempsey, Nicole Byrne, Becky Fenlon; Eva Galvin, Claire Fox; Shifra Havill, Aimee Kelly, Aoife Kirrane; Niamh Cullen, Marie Byrne, Alanna Havill. Subs: Holly Hanway for Fox (40), Aine Haberlin for Fenlon (injured – 49), Laura Dunne for Cullen (54)
Referee: Mick Tarpey (Kilcavan)