Stradbally set to clinch hat-trick of titles with victory over Tramore

IT WOULD be disrespectful to Tramore to suggest that their opponents and reigning champions, Stradbally, have only to turn up at Fraher Field today to complete the club’s first hat-trick of Waterford SFC final titles in 60 years.

It appears a David versus Goliath clash at Dungarvan with Stradbally in the role of firm favourites to retain the title they won so convincingly in 2001 and retained last year.

Most pundits would rate the present Stradbally side better than either of the last two title winning teams. The experience the younger players have gained over the last two championship winning campaigns has made them into formidable opponents, and they are entitled to their odds-on rating.

Ardmore came closest to ending their unbeaten run a few months back, but when push came to shove the champions weren’t found wanting and squeezed home with three points to spare.

Thereafter it has been something of a freewheel, and the ease with which they dispatched the Nire’s challenge in the semi-final had people concluding that they were certainties to complete the hat-trick.

They have players of genuine quality spread right through their team with goalkeeper Kevin Cunningham fronted by a tight-marking defence built around Tom and Lar Walsh, Kevin Coffey and Oliver Costelloe.

Their midfield of George Walsh and Tom Hearne has been mastered in the campaign to date, and in Niall and Trevor Curran, Ger Power, and Stephen Cunningham they have four of the best forwards in the county.

Tramore, in stark contrast, weren’t on anyone’s short list to make it to the final, but are there on merit and will undoubtedly relish the ‘no hopers’ tag so many attached to them.

They were outsiders against Kilrossanty in round one, were equally unfancied against St. Saviours in the quarter-final, and while their semi-final joust with Ballinacourty was regarded as a much more open affair they still went into that one in the familiar role of underdog.

Their last title win was in 1984 and they haven’t graced county final day since they failed in their bid to retain their crown a year later. They have been the surprise packet of this year’s campaign and given their consistency in upsetting the odds all along the way Stradbally would be well advised to treat Sunday’s game with caution.

The seasiders will rely heavily on three Under 21 players, Mark Power, Bob Costelloe and Tony Whelan, who helped Waterford to Munster championship glory in the grade this year, but they will be without a fourth, John O’Reilly, who is a long-term injury absentee.

Two of their more experienced players, Paddy Fleming and Paul Ogle, will also undergo late fitness tests.

Stradbally seem poised to win and anything other than victory for them would be an upset of monumental proportions (the throw in is at 2.30).

The curtain-raiser is a senior football championship relegation play off between Dungarvan and Kilmacthomas (1pm) with the losers facing the uninviting prospect of playing in the intermediate grade in 2004.

Ironically Dungarvan are the last club to win three senior titles on the trot between 1990 and 1992 and the club also heads the championship roll of honour with 23 titles. Now they are just one hour away from exiting the top flight for the first time in a generation.

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