A strange Sunday afternoon in Kenny Park eventually ended with a Portumna victory as the All Ireland champions survived despite a flurry of Gort goals.
The underdogs finished with a real flourish, but sufficient Portumna damage had been inflicted as they booked a place in a seventh straight Galway SHC final.
Such a splendid success record owes much to the considerable influence of Joe Canning, who delivered another significant haul of scores on his 21st birthday to nudge Portumna into the decider.
Gort gave Portumna some bother in last year’s county showpiece and it was felt locally that the tight confines in Athenry may aid their cause. Portumna, though, are a hardened outfit at this stage, capable of dealing with all kinds of challenges and they hurled with trademark grit in the first half. By the time the interval rolled around Portumna, with Canning prominent as usual, had edged 3-5 to 1-2 ahead.
Throughout the past couple of campaigns Portumna have been blessed with an admirable ability to grab majors and three were struck in the opening period. Damien Hayes, Martin Dolphin, and Canning all showed real opportunism when steering powerful shots past the busy Peter Cummins.
Gort had clipped the Portumna net themselves when Gerry Quinn crashed a bullet through a thicket of bodies, but Portumna still went in nine points ahead at the break.
And the contest followed a similar pattern after the restart as Portumna maintained a sizeable lead. A 39th minute Keith Killilea goal gave Gort a drop of hope, but that was quickly cancelled out as Dolphin punished a defensive lapse at the other end of the pitch.
With only 10 minutes remaining Portumna had extended their advantage to a mammoth 4-14 to 2-4 before Gort poured forward in the dying stages.
Ollie Fahy and Andy Coen both nailed goals to reduce the deficit as the match suddenly became interesting. Coen’s long-range frees were causing panic in the Portumna defence, and he added a point before supplying the assist for another Fahy goal.
Then deep into stoppage time a Coen free evaded a packed goalmouth and crossed the line as the gap was pared down to three.
Referee Michael Dolan blasted the full-time whistle seconds later and Portumna’s thoughts were already turning to the November 8 final.
Mullagh and Loughrea meet this weekend in the other semi-final in Athenry and a tight contest is anticipated. Loughrea’s passionate approach has seem them eke out wins at this stage previously, but they are completely aware of Mullagh’s promise.
This year’s championship has been sprinkled with impressive Mullagh displays and their panel has plenty of inter-county experience. Loughrea are resourceful and will be primed for battle in what promises to be a lively affair.
Portumna: I Canning; A O'Donnell, E McEntee, O Canning; G Heagney (0-1 ), M Ryan (0-1, f ), P Smith; L Smith (0-1 ), E Lynch; N Hayes, K Hayes (0-1 ), A Smith (0-2, 1f ); D Hayes (1-1 ), J Canning (1-7, 4fs ), C Ryan. Subs: M Dolphin (2-0 ) for Lynch (8 mins ), D Canning for Ryan (50 mins ), C O'Hare for J Canning (58 mins ).
Gort: P Cummins; T Linnane, A Coen (2-1, 1-0f, 0-1 65 ), S Og Linnane; J Grealish, B Regan, G Lally; G Quinn (1-4, 1-3fs, 165 ), K Finnegan; M Cummins, A Harte, P Killilea; R Cummins, O Fahy (2-0 ), M Nestor. Subs: K Killilea (1-0 ) for Finnegan (34 mins ), A Mullins for Nestor (37 mins ), S Forde for Grealish (49 mins ), N Linnane for Quinn (58 mins ).