THIS wasn’t the big upset that some observers were claiming afterwards, but any day Portumna are beaten in knock-out championship hurling is still a newsworthy event.
It didn’t happen by accident either as Sunday’s conquerors Craughwell reaped the reward of having their homework done on the four-times All-Ireland champions in a quarter-final marred by too many frees – 31 in total – and a heavy surface.
Operating with former county player Adrian Cullinane as an effective sweeper, the 2015 county finalists also got their match-ups right, notably Ger O’Halloran’s tight policing of young Jack Canning and Mark Horan’s robust presence on Joe Canning.
Furthermore, a well-organised Craughwell brought an energy and zeal to the contest which Portumna couldn’t match despite battling to the end in desperate search of a match-saving goal, with defender Owen Treacy having a half-chance in injury time to force a replay.
It was no coincidence that Craughwell’s player/manager Fergal Healy was the man who thwarted Treacy as he led from the front and belied his birth certificate – the 2001 All-Ireland final goal scorer turned 40 recently – with a big contribution, highlighted by his sniping of three invaluable points.
The admirable Healy is now just two matches away from emulating the feat of Sarsfields’ Cathal Murray two years ago when he successfully resurrected the dying player/manager’s role, but Craughwell will have a tough bridge to cross against new title favourites Gort in the upcoming semi-final.
A measure of Craughwell’s defensive dominance was that they restricted Portumna to only two points from play – both coming from Joe Canning, who was their only scorer in a contest which was hard fought but gradually deteriorated in quality.
Having rattled up 4-21 against Castlegar the previous weekend, Portumna’s difficulties up front still came as a surprise despite the success of Craughwell’s game-plan. Damien Hayes, Andy Smith, Jack Canning, Ronan O’Meara and Kevin Hayes couldn’t manage a score between them as they were often overpowered by sheer weight of opposition numbers.
Full report in this week’s Connacht Tribune