Athenry 1-16 Sarsfields 3-7
By Diarmuid O’Flynn
GIVEN the weather conditions, the Galway SHC final was never going to be a classic display of all the sublime skills in the game, and so it proved.
The revamped Pearse Stadium, boasting a magnificent new covered stand, was packed to its 9,000 capacity and several thousand more braved the strong wind and showers in the new terraces while the re-laid pitch was as playable as any other in this sodden country. But ultimately yesterday’s battle was a test of character .
Having played with the strong downfield wind, Sars’ half-time lead of five points, 1-7 to 0-5, didn’t look near enough and when Athenry turned that over and raced into a 1-9 to 1-7 lead within ten minutes of the re-start, there were fears this would turn into a rout. A minute later, the challenge facing Sars looked even more insurmountable when, after a series of off-the-ball confrontations, former Galway star Joe McGrath was given an early bath after felling Athenry centre-back Diarmuid Cloonan.
It was only after that incident however that this game really took off, and a series of magnificent Athenry points were negated by two opportunist goals from Sarsfields, to leave just two points between them entering injury-time.
Four minutes were announced, seven were actually played. Athenry added a point, from their supremely-talented full-forward Eugene Cloonan, but never-say-die Sars came within a whisker of forcing a replay when midfieldfer Padraig Forde’s well-hit ground shot whistled just outside the upright. Had it gone inside, it would have been rough justice on Athenry.
Backed by that strong wind, Sars began well and looked like giving Athenry a decent target by half-time. Joe Cooney was punishing the Athenry transgressions from placed balls, though the mercurial Cloonan was keeping the town side in touch.
Sars led 0-4 to 0-2 after 12 minutes, when we had the first goal. Left-corner-forward Peter Kelly forced a fine save from Athenry keeper Michael Crimmons, but Patrick McMahon nipped in for the simplest of finishes. Cooney added to that goal and at 1-5 to 0-2 it was looking good for Sars.
Rabbitte, Cloonan and David Donoghue were the three most impressive of the Athenry forward sextet, and a point from each had the new champions within two points by six minutes, before the only Athenry goal. Donal Moran ’s well-struck shot was saved by Tommy Kenny, the ball went straight upwards, and waiting underneath, without a defender in sight were Eugene Cloonan and David Donoghue. Double whammy, 1-8 to 1-7, the lead for Athenry, increased in the 40th minute with a Cloonan free.
Enter Joe Cooney. Now 38 , the former Allstar had dropped back in defence for the second-half, but came forward to rocket a 20m free through a packed goal-line to the top corner leaving it 2-7 to 1-9 to Sars. Athenry though showed their mettle with six points on the trot, from five different players. Again Sars came forward, another free, too far out for the direct shot but taken short by sub Aidan Donoghue to the lurking Patrick McMahon, whose ground missile finished in the net, 1-15 to 3-7.
With four minutes of announced injury-time to go things were back in the melting-pot. But with Eugene Cloonan having the final say the honours went to Athenry and justice was done.
Scorers - Athenry: E. Cloonan 0-9 (0-6 frees); D. Donoghue 1-4; J. Rabbitte 0-2; P. Higgins 0-1.
Sarsfields: J. Cooney 1-5 (1-4 frees, 0-1 65); P. McMahon 2-0; C. Murray, P. Forde, 0-1 each.
ATHENRY: M. Crimmons; M.J. Quinn, G. Keane, J. Feeney; B. Higgins, D. Cloonan, P. Hardiman; B. Keogh (capt), B. Hanley; J. Rabbitte, P. Higgins, S. Donoghue; D. Moran, E. Cloonan, D. Donoghue. Subs: J. Conway (Hanley 49); C. Moran (D. Moran 66).
SARSFIELDS: T. Kenny; D. Keane, B. Cooney, P. Noone; P. Kelly, M. Ward, A. McMahon; P. Forde, J. Cooney; C. Murray, J. McGrath, P. Garvey; P. McMahon, M. McGrath, P. Kelly. Subs: A. Donoghue (Garvey 30+); W. Earls (B. Cooney 36); J. Dervan (Ward 43); R. Quinn (Murray 62); J. Keane (P. McMahon 65).
Referee: J. McCormack (Meelick-Eyrecourt).