EASTERN continued their domination of domestic football with a 1-0 victory over Ernest Borel in the Hongkong FA Cup final at Mongkok Stadium yesterday.
A 75th-minute goal from midfielder Tam Siu-wai was enough to settle the game and give Eastern their third major trophy of a memorable season.
The FA Cup, which they were winning for the first time since 1984, followed their success in the Camelpaint Challenge Shield and the First Division championship.
After skipper Lee Kin-wo had received the trophy, Eastern team manager Peter Leung said: ''At the start of the season I knew we had a good team but I never thought we could win three of the four trophies.
''The conditions were difficult because of the state of the pitch and also the hot weather but we came out on top again.
''It was another great team effort because some of the players were still tired after the World Cup qualifying games in Korea and some had not fully recovered from injury.
''Now I hope we can sign up all the same players for next season.'' Despite Eastern's successful campaign, in which they also won the pre-season President's Cup seven-a-side tournament and finished runners-up to South China in the Viceroy Cup, the future is not straightforward for the players.
When Lai Sun pulled out of the league two years ago, the players moved to Eastern and a two-year sponsorship deal with Crocodile clothes.
That deal runs out this month and the club management are still unsure how much money they will have available for next season. This season's budget was HK$7 million, the third highest after Ernest Borel and South China.
Eastern's victory yesterday was their 22nd in 27 league and cup games. They have drawn three times and lost only twice, to South China in the Viceroy Cup final and to Sing Tao in the league.
Borel, who lost captain Chan Kwok-fai through injury after 32 minutes, kept Eastern in check for most of a dour first half.
But Eastern came close to snatching the lead just before the break when Tam used his head to deflect Paul Nixon's powerful drive but saw Borel goalkeeper Chan Shu-ming make an acrobatic save.
When Tam split the Borel defence in the next minute to set up Nixon, the striker placed his right-foot shot wide.
A half-time tactical change enabled Eastern to take control in the second half. Coach Chan Hung-ping moved Tim O'Shea from the centre of defence, where he had been marking Keith Thompson, into midfield to patrol Craig Foster, who had been given too much room in the first half.
Borel could have gone in front in the 72nd minute, however, when striker Au Wai-lun cleverly beat substitute defender Lai Law-kau but shot wildly.
Eastern made them pay for that miss three minutes later when Tam scored his seventh goal of the season. After being put through in the inside right channel by his skipper, Lee Kin-wo, Tam knocked the ball across 'keeper Chan and into the far corner.
Having broken the deadlock, Tam was substituted 11 minutes from full-time to rest his injured ankle.
Eastern's work is not complete just yet, though, because they play Borel again in the league on Thursday and provide the bulk of the squad for the Shanghai-Hongkong Interport next Sunday.
Then they return to the territory for their final league fixture against British Forces on June 30 - after kicking off the season on September 20.