Leinster Senior League
Portlaoise AFC 1
Castleknock Celtic 1
By Mark Comerford
PORTLAOISE AFC left two points on the field Wednesday night when they were forced to settle for a draw with a resurgent Castleknock Celtic. Having been the better team for large parts of the game, Portlaoise lost their way in the last quarter of an hour and allowed the visitors back into the tie.
Darren Rogers’ men suffered back-to-back home defeats in their previous two league outings and really could have used the lift of a home three-pointer on a bitterly cold night in Rossleighan Park.
Portlaoise made three changes from the side that lost to Inchicore ten days ago, with Niall Doran, Chris Mulhall, and captain, Jason Murphy coming in for Kelvin Burke, Jason Horan and Cathal Hewitt. Mulhall had an early chance for the hosts in an all-action, high-tempo start from Portlaoise.
The visitors were patient, not forcing the matter, and causing problems with their movement off the ball. Their quick wingers were getting beyond the Portlaoise full-backs and whipping in dangerous cross after dangerous cross.
Portlaoise thought they were in after 15 minutes when Jason Caffrey almost got on the end of a long ball into the box.
Injuries have been the story of the season for the home side and there was another casualty midway through the half. Their sole remaining defender, Aidan McGovern went down after a collision in the Castleknock penalty box and was subbed off clutching his shoulder moments later.
Colm Poole is such a talented player that he seamlessly dropped back in to cover centre back for over an hour. But Portlaoise sorely missed his creativity in midfield.
After an even and open first half an hour, it was all Portlaoise for the last 15 minutes of the half. They were starting to create space and find gaps in the Castleknock defence. Murphy hit a beautiful free kick which rattled the angle of the frame, but his side had to settle for 0-0 at the break.
The hosts started the second half as they finished the first, dominating the opening ten minutes. Murphy had the best chance of the game up to that point in the 55th minute and a player of his ability would have expected to do much better. Mulhall was a lot more involved in the second half and put huge pressure on an increasingly shaky Castleknock defence.
The opening goal finally came in the 70th minute when Murphy got on the end of a long ball, beat two defenders and laid it off to Caffrey who guided the ball into Mulhall’s path, allowing the striker to turn it into the net.
But eight minutes later, Portlaoise goalkeeper, Sean McCormack took out David Costello in the box and referee, Jason Ray pointed to the spot.
Aran Mulhall stepped up but his shot hit the outside of the post and went out for a goal kick.
Rather than getting a lift from the let-off, Portlaoise seemed disheartened to have conceded the penalty and surrendered control of the game to the visitors.
Castleknock eventually equalised in the 83rd minute when substitute, Joseph Lennon Maher scored with a diving header from an in-swinging free kick.
Portlaoise beat Castleknock 2-1 in the reverse fixture back in November and should have gone on to complete the double over the Dublin side. They will certainly see this as a missed opportunity.
Portlaoise trail Leixlip United by a single point with two games in hand after their exploits in the FAI Cup and the Metro Cup.
PORTLAOISE: Sean McCormack, Jason Woods, Niall Doran, Aidan McGovern, Michael Rogers, Colm Poole, David Doyle, Aaron Rafter, Jason Caffrey, Chris Mulhall, Jason Murphy.
Subs: Cathal Hewitt for McGovern (24, inj), Evan Hewitt for Doyle (85m)
CASTLEKNOCK CELTIC: Aaron Kelly, Patrick Barkowski, Ben Traynor, Daniel Germaine, Philip Fitzpatrick, Gavin Balfe, Shane Dunne, Aidan Grzan, David Costello, Cillian Daly, Aran Mulhall.
Subs: Ryan Gray for Barkowski (59m), Joseph Lennon Maher for Balfe (71m), Sean Gill for Daly (79m), Daniel O’Mahoney for Traynor (80m)
Referee: Jason Ray