Stradbally continues to reign supreme
Stradbally 1-11; Tramore 0-8

W hile there was never any doubt about the outcome of last Sundays Lawlor Hotel County Senior Football Final, defending champions Stradbally picking up their third title on the trot, had to work exceedingly harder than expected before seeing off a spirited challenge from Tramore, who contributed a fair deal to their emphatic downfall through over elaborate use of the short passing play, and the concession of too many frees, during an all too fleeting sixty minutes football. Those who came expecting to see the defending champions win by a much bigger margin were bitterly disappointed, but had Stradbally availed to the full of the numerous gilt edged scoring chances on offer in the opening ten minutes, the game as a contest would have been safely confined to history long before the interval. As it was Tramore appearing in their first County Senior Final since 1985, gradually settled and it is to their eternal credit that they subsequently made a match out of it, but at no stage did anything other than a win for Stradbally suggest itself. This may not have been an over all vintage football performance from the Covesiders, but it was sufficient on the day to complete their three in a row sequence of title wins, and as matters now stand they look more than capable of retaining possession of the Conway Cup come 2004.

Series of let-offs
With the clerk of the weather at his benevolent best players had only to contend with a slight breeze blowing directly down the field towards the road end of the Grounds, but such was the manner in which the champions set about underlining their early superiority, that it mattered little that it was the challengers who had first use of the elements following the toss of the coin. The playing surface itself was in remarkably fine condition for the time of the year and the attendance while falling way short of the recent County Hurling Final, was slightly up on last year. It was electrifying action at the outset, and the game was just over a minute old, when the champions struck for what turned out to be the only goal of the match. There was indeed a clinical build up to that initial and crucial score and while it did take a slight defensive deflection en route to the net, it was brilliantly executed, and represented a huge blow to Tramore confidence and morale. So much so that for virtually the next ten minutes the Covesiders laid siege on the challengers lines, and at times it must be conceded, the Big Strand side's citadel bore a little more than a charmed existence. The champions eventually stretched their lead in the 10th minute and were five points (1-2) to the good before Tramore succeeded in getting something on the scoreboard. After that the contest settled down on a more equilibrium course and by half time, the early match goal was all that separated the teams.

Badly needed
Setting out on the concluding thirty minutes or so, Tramore needed to secure an early couple of scores or perhaps a morale-boosting goal to strengthen their resolve. But it was the champions who took up where they had left off and before very long they had started to put more than the interval differential between them. Yet, despite Stradbally's superiority in many sectors of the field, they found difficulty in putting this challenging force to the sword. This was because the Tramore defence tightened up considerably on their earlier marking, found confidence in coming away with the ball, but far too many of their short passing movements went astray, and more often or not, gave possession away all too easily, and found themselves in retaliatory trouble as a result. For all that the challengers hung in there to the bitter end but the sum total of three second half points two of them from frees, proved less than adequate towards unruffling the champions who in the end, were most certainly not flattered by their six points winning margin.

How the scores came
The game started on a very lively note with both sides determined to stamp their authority on the exchanges. However, it was the champions who struck first and in decisive fashion. John Coffey created an opening and combined well with John Hearne before the finishing touch to the Tramore net came from a well positioned Ger Power whose first time effort picked up a deflection off Tramore defender Paul O'Gorman as it ricocheted into the challenger's net. Despite playing against the breeze, Stradbally continued to lay siege on the Tramore lines, and a combination of let offs unquestionably saved this game as a contest. The winners increased their lead with a splendid George Walsh point, and while Tramore continued to live dangerously they were already showing signs of facing up to the task. While a swift Stradbally movement led to Niall Curran's first point in the 13th minute, the Big Strand side finally gave their followers something to cheer about, when a through ball from Bob Costelloe was finished over the bar by Lee Quilty, exactly on the quarter hour. Seconds later, Mark Power was almost through for a second Tramore score, and in courageous fashion the second point arrived in the 16th minute from a well delivered free by Michael O'Donoghue.

Even so, Stradbally's dominance remained constant, and it came as no great a surprise when they stretched their lead in the 19th minute following a four man movement and a Niall Curran point which could just as readily have been a goal. The Eastern men stayed in touch as Mark Power combined well with Lee Quilty for his second point some sixty seconds later, and in undoubtedly their best play of the half, a further free from Michael O'Donoghue was fisted over the bar by Luke Power from close range. John Coffey and Lee Quilty exchanged points as the quality of the football improved before in the 31st minute of the match Niall Curran obliged from a placed position to give his side a far from flattering half-time lead of 1-5 to 0-5.

Little doubt
The prospects of a full-scale second half Tramore resurgence was nullified within 90 seconds of the re-start. Again, Niall Curran was involved, and the hard working Stephen Cunningham put the finishing touch to extend the champions lead to 4 points. Tramore did manage to get a badly needed point from a free in the 36th minute per Michael O'Donoghue, and an excellent one it proved to be. However, inexplicably, the last mentioned was called ashore within a minute of reducing the deficit and was replaced by Patrick Dunphy. Stradbally continued to press strongly, and effectively put the issue beyond the challenger's reach before the end of the third quarter. Niall Curran was again on target from a free in the 41st minute, followed quickly by another from Ger Power a minute later, and following sustained pressure, George Walsh also got his name on the score sheet with a mighty effort in the 44th minute. Flagging Tramore hopes were raised when Lee Quilty pointed twice in the 45th minute from a free and the 49th minute from play, and the deficit was back to 4 points again.

The introduction of Alan Reynolds and Gerry Goodwin represented the final throw of the dice by the Eastern team mentors, and while an immediate slight improvement was noticed, it failed to bring the necessary urgently needed scores. Stradbally copper fastened their position with late points from Stephen Cunningham in the 51st minute, and another excellent effort from Ger Power four minutes from the end.

To their eternal credit Tramore never stopped trying, they contested every ball with tremendous commitment and determination to the very end all to no avail however, as Stradbally held on to record another famous victory. Final score again: Stradbally 1-11 Tramore 0-8.

Key factors
Paramount to Stradbally's third successive county final triumph was undoubtedly their general all-round better balance. They had a well-marshalled defence on duty, in which Kevin Cunningham in goal was rarely tested, and Kevin Coffey, Thomas Walsh, Trevor and Oliver Costelloe, proved outstanding. The champions held a decisive edge in the middle of the field with five star performances on hand from George Walsh and John Hearne, while a quick moving attack always spelled trouble in possession with John Coffey, Stephen Cunningham, and Niall Curran the toast of the day.

This was by no means a chastening experience for the relatively youthful Tramore side. They are bound to benefit enormously from the experience, and will surely be a side to be reckoned with in the future. They had an outstanding full-back in Martin Whelan, with team captain Damien Gillane, and centre half back Niall Brennan particularly impressive, while John Moroney in goal had a few anxious moments in the beginning, he subsequently settled down to shine for the remainder of the game.

Despite the valiant efforts of mid fielders Brian O'Connor and Paul Ogle Tramore played second fiddle for the most part in this key sector, while upfront much depended on Mark Power and Bob Costelloe with Lee Quilty somewhat below par with his free taking.

Stradbally: G. Power 1-2; N. Curran 0-4; G. Walsh & S. Cunningham 0-2 each; J. Coffey 0-1.

Tramore: L. Quilty 0-5; M. O'Donoghue 0-2; L. Power 0-1.

Stradbally: K. Cunningham; E. Cummins; K. Coffey; T. Walsh; L. Walsh; T. Costelloe; O. Costelloe; G. Walsh; J. Hearne; J. Coffey; G. Power; S. Cunningham; N. Curran; M. Walsh; T. Curran.

Tramore: J. Moroney; P. O'Gorman; M. Whelan; D. Gillane; B. Power; N. Brennan; G. Dunphy; B. O'Connor; P. Ogle; M. O'Donoghue; T. Whelan; B. Costelloe; L. Quilty; M. Power; L. Power. Subs: R. McDonald for B. Power; P. Dunphy for M. O'Donoghue; A. Reynolds for T. Whelan; G. Goodwin for P. Ogle; G. O'Gorman for R. McDonald.

Referee: Brian Power (Cnoc Sion).

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