A superb late goal from The Heath’s wing forward Cathal Whelan saw them claim a hard-fought four point win in this SFC opener last Thursday night at O’Moore Park.
Laois Shopping Centre SFC Rd 1
The Heath 2-9
The Heath were probably deserving winners in the end, having played some nice football in the opening stages without really punishing Stradbally.
They in turn came back, drawing level in the second half, but The Heath had one final kick in them, and Whelan’s goal eventually broke the Stradbally resistance.
Overall, however, it wasn’t a game to live long in the memory. Conditions certainly didn’t help, as heavy rain beforehand made life difficult for both teams. On top of that, there was some very poor shooting, with Stradbally in particular guilty of that, hitting nine wides and wasting a number of good chances.
For The Heath, they probably should have had the game wrapped up within the opening 12 minutes. They had five good goal chances in that time, but only took one of them. Ciaran Booth blazed wide, Chris Bergin missed a penalty and Daithi Carroll saw one effort hit the post and the other saved on the line.
They could have been made to pay for that, but did enough to win despite the misses, and can now look forward to round two.
For Stradbally, this defeat will have been worrying, and it heightens the need to get Colm Kelly back to full fitness as soon as possible. If they continue this form, they will be vulnerable to slipping further towards the relegation trap door.
That vulnerability was on show early here too, as The Heath had a goal chance inside of a minute thanks to Ciaran Booth’s driving run, but he pulled his shot wide. They opened the scoring in the fifth minute when Jimmy Nerney pointed a 45, but they should have been further ahead. Daithi Carroll then hit the post before Evin Keane got their first goal, as he applied a neat finish to excellent approach play from Ciaran Booth.
Two minutes later, Daithi Carroll was brought down in the penalty area after he saw an effort saved on the line, and Davy Moore pointed to the spot. Chris Bergin stepped up to take it, but his effort was easily saved by Derek Beale.
Stradbally responded to that reprieve with two points in the space of a minute, from Conor Delaney and Greg Ramsbottom, to halve the deficit.
The rest of the half saw just four more points, as both sides struggled to impose themselves on proceedings. The pick of the scores was from Stradbally’s Paul Begley, who landed a superb effort from way out on the right wing. That left The Heath two up at the break, 1-3 to 0-4.
Stradbally set out to eat into that lead early in the second half, and Cormac Delaney’s lofted ball into the penalty area seemed destined for Tom Shiel to fist it to the net, but The Heath goalkeeper Joe Walshe did well to catch it under pressure.
Chris Bergin tapped over a free in a low-scoring start to the half, but points from Darren Maher and Greg Ramsbottom got Stradbally within one. With their lead threatened, The Heath responded well, as two points from Cathal Whelan and one from Evin Keane pushed them four ahead again.
Stradbally were thrown a lifeline soon after as the pace of the game picked up, with Conor Delaney steering home a goal and he then pointed a free to level the game with ten minutes to go.
With the victory there for the taking, it was The Heath who raised their game. Robbie Dowling and Chris Bergin pointed before Bergin set up Cathal Whelan, and his powerful shot flew into the top corner to seal a four point win for The Heath.
SCORERS - The Heath: Cathal Whelan 1-2, Evin Keane 1-1, Chris Bergin 0-4 (frees), Jimmy Nerney (45), Robbie Dowling 0-1 each. Stradbally: Conor Delaney 1-3 (0-1 free), Greg Ramsbottom 0-2, Darren Maher (45), Tom Shiel, Paul Begley 0-1 each.
THE HEATH: Joe Walshe; Mark Dowling, Colin Nestor, Aidan Bergin; Robert Dowling, Jimmy Nerney, Tony Connolly; Shane Carroll, Ciaran Booth; Daithi Carroll, JP Nerney, Cathal Whelan; Brian Ging, Chris Bergin, Evin Keane. Subs: Denis Booth for JP Nerney (47 mins), Alan Whelan for A Bergin (50 mins)
STRADBALLY: Derek Beale; Colin Beale, Paul Begley, Liam Knowles; Damien Murphy, Darragh Mulhall, Jamie Kavanagh; Darren Maher, Stephen Lawlor; Eoin Buggie, Conor Delaney, Tom Shiel; Cormac Delaney, Podge Langton, Greg Ramsbottom.Subs: John Donohue for Buggie (42 mins), Joe Lacey for Knowles (47 mins), Padraig Fitzpatrick for Langton (52 mins), Liam Knowles for C Beale (53 mins), Brendan Lawlor for Cormac Delaney (56 mins)
Referee: Davy Moore (St Joseph’s)