I have a soft spot for Strokestown GAA, ever since my family lived in the town for a couple of years in the late 1980s. At the time, Strokestown had some brilliant players, a group that realised its potential with a historic senior title win in 1992.
Nowadays, I live and work in the Roscommon town area, so I have an affinity with Roscommon Gaels. Therefore, I arrived in Hyde Park on Sunday as a very interested observer!
A small crowd of supporters were huddled tight against the wall of the old stand. It was a stinker of a day in the Hyde. At one point in the first half a bird flew over us to have a peek at the action; it didn’t stay around for long, returning to a place of shelter.
Strokestown settled better than the Gaels, moving the ball with greater purpose, Cathal Compton orchestrating much of their play.
Three wides in quick succession underlined their superiority. At the other end, the Gaels were surviving on scraps. Peter Gillooly’s reliable free-taking kept them in touch, but glossed over a lack of penetration in their attack.
Midway through the first half, Strokestown scored a fine goal, courtesy of Colm Neary. In such miserable rainy conditions, finding a goal during cagey exchanges was almost as precious as suddenly discovering a packed picnic basket in a desert. Strokestown led 1-5 to 0-6 when the half-time whistle sounded.
Whatever Gaels’ manager Frankie Dolan said during the break had an immediate impact, as his team upped their game significantly. The Gaels were excellent in the opening ten minutes of the second half, by far their best spell. A more intense ‘in your face’ approach began to yield turnovers. With Mark Purcell arrowing over superb long-range frees, the Gaels moved a point clear, before the game’s turning point came.
Caught in possession way out of goal, Gaels’ goalkeeper James Fetherstone appeared to have recovered, but with bodies everywhere and panic spreading, the ball spun into the path of Paddy Brogan. As supporters held their breath, he guided a remarkable long-range lob into the empty Gaels’ net.
Strokestown’s composure in the closing stages was admirable. The insurance score came from Cathal Lavin, whose sidestep, before calmly pointing, might not have been out of place on Dancing with the Stars.
With time their enemy, the Gaels went direct, signing up to the lottery of high balls into the goalmouth. Strokestown held firm for an excellent – and well deserved – victory.