At the tail end of last season Abbeyleix made the trip to Stradbally looking to seal the Division 2 title only to have their hopes briefly dashed thanks to a thrilling 4-3 Town win.
CCFL Division 1
Stradbally Town 4
Abbeyleix Athletic 3
This year’s trip came much earlier in the season, and one division higher after both sides won promotion from Division 2, but the score-line stayed the same as Town kick-started their season in a cracking contest on Sunday morning.
Struggling at the foot of the table with five defeats from five, Strad would have been major underdogs against an Abbeyleix side that have taken to Division 1 like ducks to water, but if this is anything to go by Town have more than enough to make their way up the ladder. They took the lead early on when a Derek Beale free from 20 yards too a slight nick off the wall but Athletics’ keeper Chris Doyle will feel he should have done better to keep a relatively straightforward collection from nestling into the back of the net.
Abbeyleix were playing the better football and it looked to be only a matter of time before the sides were back on terms. On the twenty minute mark Stephen Hawkins dragged a low shot just wide of the post but it Town’s resistance was broken a minute later when keeper Matt Kelly spilt a Niall Wallace free into the path of Hawkins. The keeper made a super stop at Hawkins’ feet but the rebound fell to Joe Bergin who tapped home from three yards out.
Town hit back just as quick, again from a set-piece. Bill Kelly lofted a free into the danger area and their chief aerial threat Alan Mulhall flicked a super header into the path of Derek Beale who applied a neat finish to bag his second of the game. Athletic were stunned but it was to get an awful lot worse for them before they started to get to grips with Town’s physical approach.
The hosts showed that they can play ball too as they split the usually rock-solid Athletic defence in two on the half hour mark to make it 3-1. Podge Fitzpatrick tore down the left wing with blistering pace and he cut an inviting ball across goal where Jake Byrne was on hand to slide in and side-foot past Chris Doyle.
That was that in terms of the scoring action in what was a very entertaining first half and the second proved to be just as good. A moment of confusion almost allowed Town to make it 4-1 early only for Doyle to recover the situation with a decent stop but whilst Abbeyleix continued to play the better football without creating much it was Stradbally who were the more threatening and just short of the hour mark they hit their fourth to leave Athletic wondering just what was going on.
Again it was Podge Fitzpatrick’s trickery that undid the visitors but this time he got on the score-sheet himself. It looked like he was trying to put the ball across goal after another excellent run but it skewed off his left boot and whistled past Chris Doyle at the front post and into the back of the net.
Athletic hit back two minutes later with a well-worked goal two minutes later with Stephen Hawkins guiding a lovely header past Matt Kelly from Joe Bergin’s inviting cross. That suggested there was still plenty to play for with half an hour to go and when Hawkins bagged his second of the game fifteen minutes later it was set for a grandstand finish.
Hawkins hammered home a fierce volley from the edge of the area after Niall Wallace’s corner was only half cleared by the under-pressure Stradbally defence but for all their trying Abbeyleix couldn’t find that elusive equaliser and Town held on for a fine win.
STRADBALLY TOWN: Matt Kelly, Bill Kelly, Conor Brady, Alan Delaney, Paddy Bergin, Podge Fitzpatrick, Derek Beale, James Langton, Derek Gorman (Conor Beale ’79), Jake Byrne (Paddy Robins ’87), Alan Mulhall.
ABBEYLEIX ATHLETIC: Chris Doyle, Oisin Carroll, Darren Whelan (David Cole ’62), David Brennan, Neil Cooney, Dan Coffey (David Moloney ’54), Eoin O’Brien, Ger Fennelly (Tom Bergin ’61), Niall Wallace, Steven Hawkins, Joe Bergin.
Referee: Brendan Kelly