County Senior Hurling Champions 1999
Front Row: (left to right) David Donohue, John Feeney, Brian Higgins, Joe Rabbitte, Pat Higgins, Cathal Moran, Donal Moran. Back Row: (left to right) Eamonn Keogh, Gerry Keane, Michael Crimmins, Brian Feeney, Eugene Cloonan, Paul Hardiman, Brendan Keogh and Brian Hanley.
Galway Minor captain John Culkin raises the All-Ireland Minor Hurling Cup following the Final at Croke Park.
The nineties may have proven to be a forgettable period for Galway senior hurlers at championship level, but it was a different story on the club scene. Athenry were striving to bring the Tommy Moore Cup to Galway for the sixth time during the decade when taking on Clare side , St Josephs Doora- Barefield at Semple Stadium Thurles.
In an absorbing All-Ireland Club semi final athenry were not at their best when losing by a single point, 1-13 to 1-12. As controversy raged over a point by Cathal Moran that was signalled wide in the closing stages, Athenry should probably still have won and qualified for the final. With St. Josephs leading by a single point, Athenry were presented with two great chances to save the day. Eddie Brady's shot for point fell short but the ball broke favourably for Brendan Keogh behind the Doora-Barefield defence. A match winning goal seemed on but goalkeeper Christy O Connor spread his body to smother the shot. It was a case of the St. Josephs custodian excelling, rather than a mistake by the Athenry man.
The heartbreaking conclusion for Athenry was a disappointment that was hard to accept. Cathal Moran's shot from the right wing in the 58th minute went over the bar. The umpire at the far post was best placed to make a decision but he seemed to be blinded by the sun and turns to his fellow umpire for guidance. There was a lot of hesitation and they appeared unsure but signalled wide amid strong Athenry protests. Referee Pat Horan consulted his officials but the decision stood and Athenry's sense of outrage was compounded by the fact that just a point separated the sides at the end.They had pursued a second All-Ireland Club Title with single-minded resolution over the previous months only to be sold short by human error. Horan's failure to over-rule and call what he must have seen or to consult his linesman for another opinion reflected badly on his refereeing.
Still, Athenry's desting was in their own hands and the teams powerful third quarter surge in retrieving a six point interval lead left them perfectly placed to go on and win. Having played against a hostile wind in the opening half they trailed by 1-8 to 1-2 at the interval with Ciaran O Neill's goal before halftime opening a gap. The sides were level seven minutes from the end, but the breaks from there to the finish all went to Doora-Barefield.
Following a week of speculation in the media, the Club decided not to proceed with any sort of appeal or objection. Despite having video evidence and several witnesses to prove their case, this was decided at a meeting between the players, mentors and Club officials.
The Club issued the following statement through Club secretary Jarlath Cloonan "The Club will not concede that it wasn't a point and we have the visual and video evidence to prove our case. We have decided not to place any demands or to call on the referee to alter his position. This is a difficult decision for the Club but we are influenced by a number of considerations, not least being the position our opponents find themselves in. This decision was taken in the interest of sportsmanship and we wish Doora-Barefield the best of luck in the All-Ireland Final on St. Patrick's Day."
Croke Park officials acknowledged in a letter to the Club their appreciation for the difficult decision made by the Club. The letter read "The decision taken by your Club in light of G.A.A. rules and regulations is noted and will be seen to give a lead to all units throughout the Association. The unusual circumstances in which the Club found itself must have caused a great deal of heartache. The obvious guidance of the Club officers and the mature and positive decision taken by the Club is laudable and is deserving of praise and commendation.Ta' suil agam go dtiocfaidh an la'- sar I bhad go mbheidh a deis as Cumann Naomh Mhuire, Ath'An Ri'an eachtra seo a chur taobh thiar dibh agus go mbeidh se' ar cumas an Club a ball craobh uile E'ireann a bhuachaint".
With their passionate desire to win a second All-Ireland Club Title ended, Athenry's opponents in the county championship were hoping that their early season exertions would have left their mark. The domestic title race had proven a minefield for defending champions in recent years, but Athenry were again installed as favourites with Sarsfields a close second. John McIntyre in the Connacht Tribune forecast " Though it would be tempting fate to claim that Athenry are unbeatable, they remain the best equipped club outfit in Galway".
They made no mistake in their opening game against Liam Mellows with a comprehensive 3-17 to 1-11 victory. Eugene Cloonan clocked up 2-8 for his side, while others to impress were Brian Feeney, Brian Higgins, Paul Hardiman, Brian Hanley, Pat Higgins and Joe Rabbitte.
Athenry's reputation as championship favourites may have been questionable in a torrid first half against Mullagh at Ballinasloe. The east Galway side played out of their skins and the sides were level at 1-7 each at the interval. The county champions upped the pace considerably in the second half and were comfortable winners in the end by 2-15 to 1-11.
Just when Athenry appeared to be faltering early in the second half against Castlegar at Turloughmore, they cut loose in devastating fashion to condemn the once mighty Castlegar to the relegation play-offs. Lacking their usual verve, Athenry were three points adrift early in the second half only to respond to the crisis with an awesome scoring blitz. In the space of ten breathtaking minutes they ran their opponents defence ragged to hit a staggering total of four goals and four points. Castlegar had no answers when Athenry moved up a couple of gears and the goals by Donal Moran and David Donohue put their side on the road to a convincing 4-17 to 2-12 victory.
The county championship seemed poised to reach its earliest conclusion for several years with the surprise fixing of the quarter finals for the weekend of 22nd August. With Brian Feeney ruled out because of an ankle injury picked up against Clare in the All-Ireland quarter final and Brendan Keogh's availability in doubt because of his work commitments in Kiev, opponents Turloughmore were all primed up to topple the county champions. The Athenry Club explained their position to the Hurling Board and requested a postponement. This was refused and a letter from the Club asking the Board to clarify a number of points was ignored. Also fixed was the intermediate quarter final against Kiltormer and again the Club requested a postponement because of the unavailability of a number of players but the request was refused. The Club decided to withdraw the intermediate team as there seemed no point playing the game with only eleven players out of a panel of twenty two, able to field.
A huge crowd turned up at Clarinbridge for the senior match, expecting to see a cracking game, with the Turloughmore side tipped to end Athenry's reign. The expected challenge failed to materialise and Athenry went on to record an emphatic nineteen points victory. The game was as good as over at the halfway stage when Athenry lead by 2-10 to 0-4 with their two first half goals by Pat Higgins and Eugene Cloonan putting their side on the road to victory.
A third goal by Cathal Moran five minutes into the second half killed off any hopes Turloughmore had of a comeback. Twelve minutes from the end Eugene Cloonan added Athenry's fourth goal with an overhead pull and as the game drew to its inevitable conclusion, only Padraic Walsh held his own for Turloughmore. On top throughout the game, the winners were ruthless in their pursuit of victory, never relented and were 4-18 to 0-11 ahead at the final whistle.
Team: Michael Crimmins, Eamon Keogh, Gerry Keane, John Feeney, Brian Higgins, Brendan Keogh, Paul Hardiman, Shane Donohue, Brian Hanley, Joe Rabbitte, Pat Higgins, Donal Moran, CathalMoran, Eugene Cloonan, David Donohue. Sub: Aidan Poniard.
The intermediate team was thrown out of the county championship for failing to field and the Club fined £2,000 by the Hurling Board, despite the Club having informed the Board that they would not be fielding. Abbey-Duniry senior team suffered the same fate for a similar offence. The decision was appealed by the Club to the County Board, with feelings running high among players and members over the way the Club was being treated. Club officials felt strongly that they should not be fined and that they were entitled to a postponement of the game because of restrictions imposed on the Club at the beginning of the year after winning the previous year's intermediate title. The Club had followed the correct procedure and had given the Board sufficient notice of their position.
The County Board heard the Club's appeal, in the absence of County Board Chairman Frank Burke, but decided to uphold the Hurling Board's decision by a 12-3 majority. At the meeting, County Board Secretary Bernie O Connor made it clear to the Club that the fine was imposed in accordance with the Rules while the Club delegation argued that it was not. The Secretary claimed to have a revised rule supporting his argument, which the Club delegation had not seen or even been aware of it's existence. The County Board's ruling seemed plausible and it looked like the end of the matter and of Athenry's involvement in the intermediate championship.
The Club immediately secured a copy of the revised rules from Croke Park and this confirmed the Club's claim that the fine was not a statutory fine and that the way it was imposed on the Club was invalid. It was decided by the Club to appeal the Board's decision to the Connacht Council and to the Central Council of the GAA if this was unsuccessful. It was the view of the Club's officers that this was possible because four members of the Hurling Board had remained present and had voted on the decision at the County Board and therefore the decision taken was invalid.
In a sensational u-turn the County Board called an emergency meeting where they decided to reinstate the intermediate team and to quash the fine. The official reason given was that the Hurling Board officers were present and voted at the meeting. The feeling within the Club was that the Board realised that their handling of the whole matter would not stand up at Connacht or Central Council level and they were not prepared to even attempt to defend their stance. The County Board's reversal of its own decision on an appeal raised serious questions. The Club's case had not been heard or considered in a fair or just way and this was stated by the Club delegate's Chairman Dermot Monaghan and Secretary Jarlath Cloonan at a meeting of the Club.
Rank outsiders Ardrahan were swept aside by Athenry in the county semi-final at Kenny Park. The writing was on the wall for the south Galway side when they trailed by 0-12 to 0-6 at the interval, despite having had the assistance of the wind. Athenry were a much more formidable outfit up front where Eugene Cloonan, Donal Moran and David Donohue led the Ardrahan rearguard a merry dance. Ardrahan desperately needed an early second half goal to revive their flagging morale. Instead it was Athenry who piled on the pressure with two opportunist goals by the unforgiving Eugene Cloonan. Even two late golas by James Fahy couldn't take the bad look off the final scoreline of 2-24 to 2-7.
If Athenry had a worry going into the county final against Abbey-Duniry it was the manner and margins of their victories in the run up to the decider. It may have been difficult to maintain the edge of caution when all previous opponents had been well and truly beaten. Past results certainly count for nothing in a final but Athenry were ready to capture their second title in a row. At a packed Duggan Park, in excellent conditions, the game didn't explode into life until the last twelve minutes.
Scores had been level on no fewer than six occasions in the first half and the reigning champions possessed a two point advantage at half time, 0-8 to 0-6. With thirteen minutes left the game seemed to have taken a decided turn in Athenry's favour when the holders surged into a three point lead, 0-12 to 0-09 for the third time in the half. They were now playing with far more authority than their opponents, but out of the blue Abbey-Duniry stormed back into contention. Kevin Broderick raced through the Athenry defence before unleashing a blistering shot which Michael Crimmins parried but could not prevent from crossing the line. Athenry immediately regained their composure by taking the game by the scruff of the neck, Pat Higgins edged them ahead with a point before Brendan Keogh landed a splendid long range one. With five minutes left, Paul Hardiman underlined Athenry's dominance when pointing from over seventy metres and Donal Moran wrapped the game up when he crashed the ball to the net at the second attempt.
It was difficult to pinpoint any weakness in the Athenry side as they celebrated their first county cup back-to-back triumph. It was also a magnificent victory for Pat Nally and his selectors who had the players very fit, admirably focused on the task and highly motivated.
Team: Michael Crimmins, Eamon Keogh, Gerry Keane, John Feeney, Brian Higgins, Brian Feeney, Paul Hardiman, Brendan Keogh, Brian Hanley, Joe Rabbitte, Pat Higgins, Donal Moran, Cathal Moran, Eugene Cloonan, David Donohue. Subs: Declan Higgins, John Hardiman, Shane Donohue.
Players safety should never be compromised to complete a championship on schedule, but that basic principle was not observed at a rain soaked Garrymore when Athenry splashed their way to a 1-13 to 1-6 victory over Tooreen in the Connacht Final. Though never moving with their normal fluency, Athenry were always going to carry the day but they expended far more energy than anticipated. Late points by Eugene Cloonan and Shane Donohue served only to copper-fasten victory as distinct from putting a gloss on another Connacht Final rout by a Galway team. Paul Hardiman emerged with another fine display and was easily man-of-the match.
Athenry's long season ended when they travelled to Ruislip to play London champions St. Gabriels in the All-Ireland quarter-final. The winners were always able to up the tempo when the need arose against an honest exiles side and were comfortable winners by 2-20 to 1-9. They put the issue beyond doubt with second half goals by Eugene Cloonan and Cathal Moran to set up a mouthwatering clash against Leinster and former All-Ireland Club Champions, Birr.
Hopes of another Intermediate tile ended at Loughrea when former All-Ireland Club Champions Kiltormer defeated Athenry by 4-12 to 1-15. In a highly entertaining game Athenry looked in control for over forty minutes but Kiltormer finished strongly to secure victory. Deep into injury time only a goal separated the sides but a late goal by Martin Staunton sealed victory for his side.
Team: Patrick Hession, Aidan Cahill, Michael Cahill, Kevin McCarthy,Michael John Quinn, Derek Carroll, Michael Freaney, John Hardiman, John Conway, Declan Higgins, Emmet Caulfield, Kevin Higgins, Pascal Healy, Diarmuid Burns. Subs: Dermot Monaghan, Richard Brady.
Three Athenry players were on the Galway senior team that lost to Tipperary in the League Final at Ennis by 1-14 to 1-10. They were Brian Feeney, Paul Hardiman and Eugene Cloonan. In an epic and thrilling championship quarter-final, Clare grabbed a late draw with Galway 2-18 to 3-15 but in the replay they proved too inexperienced for a young Galway side and won by 3-18 to 2-14. Eugene Cloonan, injured in the drawn game, scored an amazing 2-10 for his side in the replay. Michael Crimmins played his first championship match for Galway and the side also included Brian Feeney, Paul Hardiman and Joe Rabbitte.
Galway minor hurlers swept majestically to a magnificent and well deserved victory over Tipperary in the All-Ireland Minor Final by 0-13 to 0-10. The John Hardiman managed side, his first year at the helm, included local hero Michael John Quinn at left half back. Five unanswered points in the five minutes before half time and an outstanding defensive display in the second half earned Galway their fourth minor title.
A resolute Galway U-21 side held on in a hectic finish to defeat Tipperary by 3-12 to 1-16 in the All-Ireland semi final at Tullamore. Galway were not found wanting in battling qualities and a goal and four points by Eugene Cloonan in the opening half laid the foundation for a surprise win against a highly rated opposition. Once again success eluded Galway in the Final against Kilkenny at Tullamore. Played in a downpour throughout, Kilkenny seemed to get all the breaks and won by 1-12 to 0-14. The Galway team included Eugene Cloonan who scored eight points, Diarmuid Cloonan, Aidan Poniard and David Donohue.
A spirited last twenty minutes by an all Galway side swept them to victory over fancied Munster in the Railway Cup Final at Thurles by 2-13 to 1-15. The Connacht side included Michael Crimmins, Brian Feeney, Paul Hardiman, Eugene Cloonan and captain Joe Rabbitte.
Another year of sustained excellence in Galway sport was reflected in the choices made by the selectors for the 35th Annual Galway Sports Stars Awards at the Ardilaun Hotel. It was a night to remember for the Club with Eugene Cloonan collecting the hurler of the year, his father Tom a special dedication award for his contribution to the Club and John Hardiman for the team of the year, the Galway minor hurling team, which he managed.
Galway All-Ireland Minor Hurling Champions 1999
Front Row: (left to right) Kevin Brady, David Forde, Richard Murray, Ronal Reilly, John Culkin, Johnny O'Loughlin, Cathal Coen. Back Row: (left to right) Brian O'Mahony, Damien Hayes, Hugh Whiriskey, Fergal Moore, Conor Dervan, Michael John Quinn, Ger Farragher and Michael Coughlan.