Ballyboden land maiden Leinster title in thriller      By Shane O’Brien

Aran Waters’ late point proved to be the match winning score as Ballyboden St Enda’s claimed the club’s first Leinster SFC after defeating Portlaoise by the narrowest of margins in a pulsating game.

A jubilant Aran Waters said that he “never could have dreamed of kicking a winning score” in a provincial final. Goals from Andrew Kerin and Michael Darragh Macauley were also crucial in a game that easily could have gone either way. Kerin’s goal after seven minutes gave Boden the start of dreams, while Macauley’s strike crucially cancelled out a Paul Cahillane goal for Portlaoise on the stroke of half time. Goal chances went a begging at both ends in what was the most open game that Ballyboden have been involved in this year. Cahillane had the chance to send the game to extra time with a minute of injury time remaining. But he horribly miscued a 13 yard free to hand the title to the Dublin side. Sam Molony gave Boden the perfect start when he curled over a right footed effort after just 30 seconds. Craig Rogers responded almost instantly for Portlaoise with an excellent score off his right from a difficult angle. Then came a crucial minute in the game. First Cahillane saw his effort for a point rebound off the upright, and within a minute the ball was in the back of the Portlaoise net in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Sam Molony was halted as he bore down on goal, and he somehow managed to poke the ball out to the unmarked Kerin from the melee that ensued, leaving the veteran forward one on one with Graham Brody in the Portlaoise goal. Kerin decided to dribble the ball soccer style towards goal and his mishit shot managed to squirm between Brody’s legs and into the back of the net to give ‘Boden a three point buffer.Conal Keaney and Brian McCormack swapped points before Kerin scored his first point of the day to give Boden a fully merited four point lead after 10 minutes.

The midfield partnership of Michael Darragh Macauley and Declan O’Mahoney were completely dominating the Portlaoise kickout, giving Boden the perfect platform to launch attacks. They also secured the vast majority of ball from their own kickout with the aid of the pinpoint accuracy of Boden ‘keeper Paul Durcan. Boden, however, would not score for another 15 minutes as Portlaoise began to grow into the game. Scores from Brian Smyth, Paul Cahillane, Brian McCormack and beautiful score from Eoghan Whelan had The Town level after 22 minutes.  Conal Keaney slotted a much needed point from a simple free to stem the Portlaoise tide and edge Boden back in front, but it could have been so much better for the Firhouse side. Molony and Kerin were both brilliantly denied by Brody within 30 seconds of each other before play was brought back for a foul on Colm Basquel. But Boden’s lead was short lived. With a minute remaining in the first half, a Brian Smyth effort seemed to be dropping harmlessly short when it deflected off Cahillane and into the back of the net to give the Laois side the lead for the first time. The goal was only the second three pointer that Boden have conceded in eight championship matches, a quite remarkable statistic.

Crucially though, Boden hit back just before the interval. Again the goal came after a Portlaoise effort for a point was missed; the ball dropping short into Durcan’s hands. From the next attack Boden had scored. Colm Basquel did brilliantly to field a high ball amidst a number of challengers, and he did even better to smuggle the ball out to Molony. Molony sent Darren O’Reilly charging towards goal, and the half forward slipped a precise handpass to Macauley who coolly slotted past the onrushing Brody to give Boden the narrowest of half time leads.

The second half was a much more scrappy and tight affair. Keaney and Cahillane swapped early scores, before substitute Brian Glynn drew Portlaoise level with an excellent score with the outside of his boot.A Craig Rogers point put The Town in front with 15 minutes remaining, but his effort was quickly cancelled out by a long range Keaney free. Boden then had Paul Durcan to thank for keeping them in the game after he superbly denied Brian McCormack, pushing the ball onto the post with the tips of his fingers. In the end, Portlaoise had to settle for a Brian Smyth point to restore their one point lead. Andy McEntee praised the performance of the Donegal net minder throughout the championship, stating he gives confidence to the other players. It was then Boden’s turn to pass up a glorious goal scoring opportunity when Kerin fired over as he raced through on goal. Cahil Healy’s stunning score from the tightest of angles saw Portlaoise hit the front with only three minutes remaining. With time running out, Basquel brilliantly drew Boden level when he instinctively kicked a fabulous point following a scrappy period of play.  With the match poised to head to extra time, Aran Waters made himself a hero in Ballyboden when he curled over after being fed by Sam Molony.

There was still time for plenty of drama, however, and it seemed certain that Portlaoise would draw level when they were awarded a 13 yard free. Luck seemed to be on Boden’s side though and Cahillane unluckily sliced his shot wide. Still there was time for Portlaoise, but midfielder Conor Boyle missed a good chance to bring them level with mere seconds remaining and Boden held on to seal a memorable and historic victory in the club’s history.

It is hard to argue against Boden deserving to win the game, but spare a thought for Portlaoise who came despairingly close to at least sending the game to extra time.

But at the end of the day there had to be a winner and this was Boden’s day, just. Indeed, a ‘relieved’ Ballyboden manager Andy McEntee said that he “would have settled for extra time” when the free was conceded and he heralded the “unbelievable character” shown by his troops. There were heroes all over the pitch for the Dublin champions. Paul Durcan was excellent in goals, while Michael Darragh Macauley and Declan O’Mahoney were majestic in midfield. Centre forward Colm Basquel was superb and was involved in almost everything good that Boden produced.  The decision to bring Keaney into a deeper role in the second half proved a master stroke from Andy McEntee. Keaney always took the right option and it was his ball into Sam Molony that led to the match winning score. Boden have a two month break before the All Ireland semi final where they will play either Clonmel Commercials or Tír Chonail Gaels. McEntee said after the game that the players will have a break between now and the semi final, especially as they didn’t have a chance to celebrate the Dublin championship win last month and no one can deny they deserve the chance to celebrate.