Waterford SFC Final: The Conway Cup rests in the Nire Valley for the seventh time after a six year absence was broken at a windswept Fraher Field yesterday.
Waterford minor and man of the match Conor Gleeson lit up the stage and kicked five points from play in his first county final appearance.
The Ballymacarbry side had lost two finals, two semi finals and a quarter final since 2008 but directed that hurt into a huge performance. They also buried a miserable run of final results against their old foes Stradbally.
“We have been knocking on the door so long,” said an out of breath Liam Lawlor at full time. “This is a reward for all the effort, all the work and all of the hill runs.
He also applauded the contribution of the 18 year old superstar up front. “John Kiely said this week that Conor Gleeson is the best minor footballer in the country and he’s right. He proved it out there today. John is a great friend of mine, the only thing he got wrong was that he predicted a Stradbally win!”
This total team performance relied heavily on savage work rate and midfield dominance. It turned out to be the survival of the fittest between two old enemies. The warrior-like Michael O’Gorman (with a bandage around his head) disrupted Stradbally under the high ball and put in a massive amount of hard graft.
He was ably assisted by Shane Walsh, Craig Guiry and Brian Wall. The defence squeezed the life out of Stradbally. They only conceded two points from play and the Reds failed to register for 22 minutes. Thomas O’Gorman held Shane Ahearne scoreless and Justin Walsh made a decisive block on Ger Power in the second half. Captain Shane Ryan led by example with four successful frees and Jamie Barron covered every blade of grass.
The Nire played with a furious breeze towards the road goal for the first thirty and were 0-6 to 0-2 in front at half-time.
Benji Whelan’s men laid down the terms of engagement. Maurice O’Gorman moved to centre forward to pick up Michael Walsh and Brian Wall pushed up on sweeper John Coffey. They won the midfield war with Michael O’Gorman collecting a rake of breaking ball.
Stradbally slipped 0-2 to 0-1 ahead with points from Michael Sweeney and Shane Ahearne but The Nire blasted five on the spin in five minutes during the second quarter. Liam Lawlor started off that run after combining with Craig Guiry. Gleeson shot two classy scores within a minute off left and right. The lionheart O’Gorman drove forward to add another before Ryan clipped over a free. Stradbally dominated the tail end of the half but missed three frees.
Gleeson continued to cause carnage on the restart. He shredded marker Paddy Doyle for pace and shot an early point to stretch the lead to five and then earned a free that Ryan converted.
Stradbally weren’t finished yet as Michael Walsh and the bubbly Michael Sweeney attempted a recovery. Two David Grey frees, one from Shane Ahearne and a long range Andy Doyle effort closed the gap to three entering the home straight (0-9 to 0-6).
Gleeson put the game to sleep four minutes from the end and sealed his individual award. Captain Ryan returned an injury time free to extinguish the pain for the men in blue and gold.
Scorers for The Nire: C Gleeson 0-5; S Ryan 0-4 (4fs); L Lawlor, Michael O’Gorman 0-1 each.
Scorers for Stradbally: D Grey (2fs), S Ahearne (2fs) 0-2 each; A Doyle, M Sweeney 0-1 each.
THE NIRE: T Wall; J Walsh, T O’Gorman, T Cooney; D Wall, B Wall, S Lawlor; S Walsh, C Guiry; Michael O’Gorman, Maurice O’Gorman, J Barron; L Lawlor, S Ryan, C Gleeson.
Subs: M Moore for C Guiry (41); J Guiry for J Walsh (56); K Guiry for Maurice O’Gorman (56); A Lawlor for L Lawlor (61).
STRADBALLY: E Cunningham; K Coffey, S Lannon, P Doyle; J Mullaney, M Walsh, L Casey; P Kiely, R Ahearne; T Connors, J Coffey, G Power; M Sweeney, S Ahearne, D Grey.
Subs: A Doyle for Casey (30); K Lawlor for P Doyle (37).
Referee: D O’Leary.