Close call for Stradbally

For a long time it looked as if the opening game of the 2008 County Senior Football Championship would produce the shock of the weekend at Walsh Park on Friday evening.

For a long time it looked as if the opening game of the 2008 County Senior Football Championship would produce the shock of the weekend at Walsh Park on Friday evening.

Stradbally . . . 1-08; Gaultier . . . 1-07

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For a long time it looked as if the opening game of the 2008 County Senior Football Championship would produce the shock of the weekend at Walsh Park on Friday evening. pre-match favourites Stradbally, without a couple of regulars, had to call on all their craft and experience to see off a stern challenge from Gaultier, before surviving by the smallest possible margin in a highly competitive 60 minutes.

Indeed, the winners had much to be thankful for the exceptional and sheer indefatigable input of county hurling star Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh, whose man of the match performance ensured that the former champions got their season off to a successful start.

Still a much changed Gaultier succeeded in getting off to the best possible start when they led by six points to one after 22 minutes play. However, the first of the game’s two penalty goals resurrected Tayside hopes and much against the run of play they went into recess a point to the good.

If the opening period was entertaining what transpired after the recess was even better. Encouraged by their late first half rally, Stradbally went on to consolidate their lead position, and inside ten minutes went four points clear. Gaultier never lost sight of their objective, and they came back to narrow the differential to the minimum with 10 minutes remaining. This was made possible by t goal number two that also came from a penalty. Hard as the both teams tried in the closing stages, the score board remained unchanged as Stradbally held on for the narrowest of wins.

Lively start

Michael Walsh rounded off some excellent combined play involving Niall Curran and John Hearne for the game’s opining point in the third minute, but little did Stradbally supporters realise at the time that it would take a further 20 minutes of play until the ‘Reds’ improved on their score board tally.

Gaultier were full of running from the outset and quickly started to put some excellent passing movements together. In no time it started to pay dividends. The equalising point came when a Paul Maher free fell short, and Gearóid O’Connor was on hand to fist over the bar. The lead for the Barony men came two minutes later, with a delightful point from Paul Fitzgerald, before his brother Anthony pointed a free.

The industrious work rate of Rory Walsh around the middle of the field paid dividends on the quarter hour mark and when he was brought down in full flight; Paul Maher was on hand to convert the resultant free. An extended purple patch for the Eastern side saw them extend their advantage when the experienced Anthony Fitzgerald produced their fifth point from play in the 19th minute. Soon after, the Stradbally defence under severe pressure, but Gearoid O’Connor was stopped in his tracks by Tony Grey and from the resultant free, Anthony Fitzgerald clocked up another white flag.

Penalty

Sixty seconds later, a worried Stradbally responded in telling fashion. A well directed centre from Michael Walsh led to a foul on Trevor Curran inside the restricted area, and when Walsh hammered the ensuing penalty to the right corner of the Gaultier net, the deficit was back to two points. Encouraged by a change in fortunes, Stradbally commenced to come up with the sort of football everyone knew they were capable of and in a blistering five minutes period, they rifled over three points without reply to lead at the break.

While the second half didn’t produce as many scores as the first period, it did come up with a better quality of football and left the outcome very much in the melting pot. Gearoid O’Connor had a chance to bring equality inside a minute of the restart but his effort went wide of the mark. Stradbally, showing greater all round balance, surged further ahead, with additional points from Shane Ahearne, John Hearne and Niall Curran to go four clear but this affair was far from over.

Anthony Fitzgerald recorded his fourth point of the evening in the 43rd minute and Niall Curran replied from an acute angle, before the game was thrown very much back into the melting pot in the 50th minute. Gaultier defender Ray Hearne pressing forward was fouled inside the small parallelogram, and when Paul Maher unleashed an unstoppable ball from the penalty, it became a one point game.

The last 10 minutes both sides had opportunities but both teams failed to score. Brace of late ‘45’s on both sides kept the excitement going to the end, and while a draw might have been a fairer outcome, nobody can deny that on their second half showing, Stradbally just about deserved the spoils.

There was no difficulty what so ever in picking out the outstanding footballer a field and it is a pity John Kiely is unable to call upon the services of Brick Walsh for Sunday week’s Munster Championship tussle with Clare. Without him, the ‘Reds’ would not have won this match. Strongest support came from John and Kevin Coffey, Tony Grey, John Hearne, Shane Ahearne and Niall Curran, while for the vanquished, Rory Walsh, Ronan McDonough, Ray Hearne, Gearoid O’Connor, Wayne Hutchinson, Paul Maher and Anthony Fitzgerald stood out.

Teams & Scorers

Stradbally: Eoin Cunningham, Emmett Cummins, Kevin Coffey, Tomas Walsh, Tony Grey, Shane Lannon, Paddy Doyle, John Hearne, John Coffey, Tommy Connors, Michael Walsh, Shane Ahearne, Niall Curran, George Walsh, Trevor Curran. Subs: Trevor Costelloe for Doyle.

Scorers: Michael Walsh 1-1, Niall Curran 0-4, Shane Ahearne 0-2, John Hearne 0-1.

Gaultier: Paul Murphy, Ronan McDonagh, Garry Molloy, Neil Hennebry, Robin Cooke, Ray Hearne, Wayne Hutchinson, Paul Carroll, Rory Walsh, Paul Maher, Gearóid O’Connor, Eddie Kirwan, Anthony Fitzgerald, Jason Hutchinson, Paul Fitzgerald. Subs: Tyrone Power for Hennebry.

Scorers: Paul Maher 1-1, Anthony Fitzgerald 0-4, Gearoid O’Connor and Paul Fitzgerald 0-1 each.

Ref: Bryan Power (Mt Sion).

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