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Saturday, 10 May 2014 19:48

A LONG AFTERNOON

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SATURDAY 10TH MAY: The Willows: sunny, very windy.
GRANGE ALBION 2 SULLY SPORTS 3 (after extra time) (CW Bruty Cup final)
Over the course of a season there are days when no match shouts out from the fixture list and there are others when one game's claim for attention is irresistible; and then there are days like today, when I'm metaphorically deafened by games clamouring for attention. But I always had a plan for today, because for some weeks it's looked as though Monmouth Town would need a result today to clinch the Welsh League title, and so I've been planning to head for their match at Cwmbran Celtic.

Except that, by 12.15, I'm not doing any such thing. The news early this morning that the pitch was "under water" and was being inspected again at mid-day, meant a morning of uncertainty, and polishing the fall-back plans. I head into Cardiff, and I'm in the bus station when the news comes through, first by phone, then via Twitter, that the game's off. Not entirely unexpected, and better than travelling and suffering a late postponement or abandonment. I evaluate Plans B, C, D and E (yes, they're all still viable) and conclude that there's no reason not to go for the nearest, easiest option: the South Wales Senior League's CW Bruty Cup final, being played at the Willows. And so, for the second time in three weeks, I find myself navigating Adamsdown's own version of the solar system en route for Willows High School.

The Senior League's cup final brings together two clubs who have finished high in the league, behind champions Cwm Welfare, Sully Sports (second) and local Cardiff side Grange Albion (fourth). So Sully start as slight favourites, but Grange have a reputation for cup success. The pitch is in good condition - no sign here of waterlogging, though several other games are off today - and Bridgend Street, as ever, are good hosts. The public address is operating, refreshments on sale and the league has produced a smart official programme. In fact, there are two programmes - Grange Albion have produced their own !

It's obvious before the match that the fierce wind is going to be a factor today. It's blowing across the pitch, but not off the channel - towards it, west to east. The trees that separate the ground from Pengam Moors and the nearby coastline are thrashing around in spectacular fashion, as if to warn how high balls are going to suffer in the teeth of this gale. It may spoil the game - but at least we have a game. A three-figure attendance has braved the elements, and judging by colours worn, the Albion fans are here in greater numbers; there's even a large teddy bear smartly dressed in the black-and-white of Grange Albion.

From the kick off, Sully, in yellow and blue take the game to Albion, and before most of us have even settled into position, they're ahead, Alex Long scoring from some way out. Albion have no answer at this stage, and Sully continue to press for the next ten minutes, culminating in a goalmouth scramble that brings a Sully penalty - converted by Long. 2-0, less than fifteen minutes gone, and a potentially close cup final is looking distinctly one-sided. Long almost completes a hat-trick, put clear on 25 minutes, but Albion keeper Carl Wadsworth just gets a touch to push his shot wide.

But the game starts to change around the half hour point. Firstly, it gets a bit lively, with both teams conceding free-kicks for rash challenges, raising the temperature a bit. And secondly, Grange Albion gradually gain a foothold in the game, beginning to break out of their own half and carve out the odd chance. And so it is that, after 35 minutes, a through ball falls perfectly for Albion striker Kareem Leigh, and he guides the ball past the onrushing Sully keeper Sharratt to reduce the deficit.

Half time comes and goes, and all that's really changed is the weather - the wind has got even stronger. The game itself is even, both sides threatening to score at times. The turning point comes with about 60 minutes on the clock, when a defensive blunder gifts the ball to Albion's Sean Kennedy, who places his shot past Sharratt and into the corner - 2-2 and anybody's game now. Is the momentum with Grange ? Can Sully reassert their earlier superiority ? Albion certainly come close to going ahead - Ashley Johnson hits an upright, and Leigh almost rounds Sharratt soon after. At the other end, with time running out, keeper Wadsworth has to make a great save from a Conner McInery header, and then Alex Long is put clear - but pulled back for offside. At 90 minutes, the sides are level and we're having another 30 minutes of being buffeted by the gale.

In the first period of extra time, the supply of match balls runs out. This is a crisis that's been on the cards for a while, with several hoofed way out onto Pengam Moors during the afternoon. After a hiatus, a couple of the more accessible ones are retrieved and play resumes. But this proves to be the only incident of note in the first extra period, the sides seemingly growing tired and a little less adventurous. I'm beginning to see a penalty shoot-out as the most likely outcome.

In the second period of extra time, Sully Sports appear to find a second wind, as their attacks begin to look menacing again. Five minutes from time, Long is put clear, he fires in a shot from 20 yards - but it hits the post and rebounds almost as far to the stranded Wadsworth. That feels like the last chance to settle the game, with the league officials now stacking the medals at the side of the pitch. But then, in the very last minute, that man Long has the ball again on the edge of the Albion area, he works his way laterally, looking for an opening. When he spots one, his aim is true - a perfect low, curling shot creeps past Wadsworth and into the bottom corner. It's a match winner, no doubt, and a worthy one.

We're spared penalties. Sully receive the trophy, and though it was a close match, it's hard to argue they didn't deserve it - hat-trick hero Alex Long the difference between the sides. This might not have been my first choice match - but plan Bs don't always work out this well: this cup final really couldn't have been more dramatic.

Read 5270 times Last modified on Sunday, 18 May 2014 06:39

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