County Senior Hurling Championship
Having been beaten, since their breakthrough title triumph in 1987, in three county finals and three quarter-finals the pressure to win another senior title on players and mentors was intense. Playing with grit and determination against double All Ireland club champions Sarsfields, Athenry raised their commitment to new heights to win the county senior hurling title at Duggan Park, Ballinasloe on the 30th of October. Coming so close on a number of occasions since their first victory, it was easy to see the relief and satisfaction among players and supporters when team captain Pat Higgins received the County Cup. Having enjoyed tremendous success at all under age levels during that period and a lot of talented young players coming through to the senior ranks winning the title had become the main objective of the club.
The team produced a superb team effort to dethrone Sarsfields who for the previous two years were unbeaten in club hurling. It was another wonderful day for the club and brought back memories of the unprecedented scenes of celebration that gripped the parish when P.J. Molloy and company won in 1987. P.J.'s introduction in the closing stages was a fitting tribute to Athenry's famous son.
Athenry were tipped early in the year as being the biggest threat to Sarsfields prospects of a three in a row. Against Loughrea in their opening game the east Galway side got off to a good start and opened a four-point gap and were still in with a fighting chance at half time when they trailed by only one point. Without ever hitting top form Athenry put on the pressure with Paul Hardiman in defense at his best and Declan Higgins making a welcome return after a serious knee injury also giving an encouraging display. In the next round Athenry easily accounted for Kilconieron winning at the end by sixteen points 3-15 to 0-8. They had no difficulty either against Pearses winning 0-20 to 1-4 to qualify for the knockout stages with a group game against Sarsfields to be decided. Four points down with as many minutes left to play it looked bad for the challengers but a few great points by Brendan Keogh leveled a low scoring game at 0-11 to 1-8.
Mullagh were Athenry's surprise opponents in the quarter final, this time there were no mistakes and Athenry ran out easy winners scoring 2-14 to 1-7. The same could not be said about the semi-final against Kinvara at Loughrea. The south Galway side playing at their best got off to a flying start and looked like causing an upset. They were five points ahead when they were denied goal by Michael Crimmins who made a spectacular save. Athenry eventually got going and picked off some excellent scores. Joe Rabbitte scored a splendid goal before John Conway added a goal and a point to put his side ahead. They opened a lead of five points with time almost up but Kinvara were not finished and narrowed the gap to one point before the final whistle. The experts who gave Kinvara no chance were now writing off Athenry's prospects against the All Ireland Club Champions who turned on the power play to easily overcome a strong Kiltormer side in the other semi-final.
The eagerly awaited final was by no means a classic but the closeness and tension of the contest more than made up for what may have been lacking in skill. A sensational scoring burst at the start of the second half put Athenry on their way to victory. Joe Rabbitte and Brian Hanley getting two goals in the space of a minute followed by points by Declan Higgins and Cathal Moran gave Athenry a commanding lead of seven points. Sarsfields piled on the pressure but the winners defense played with great conviction and could not be breached for a goal. However, at the other end of the field their forwards missed a number of good scoring opportunities that caused undue pressure in the closing stages.
When referee John J Corcoran blew the final whistle the score read 2-6 to 0-9 and the cup was on its way back to Athenry. Team manager Brendan Lynskey and his selectors Noel Kelly and Jackie O'Shea, who were also assisted by Pat O'Toole, had their homework done. The team's aspirations were well nurtured by their mentors who instilled character and self-belief in their own ability into the side. From the start the tactics were right, they opted to play Brendan Keogh as a third midfielder to counter Peter Kelly's familiar roving role. The New Inn side had no answer and the Athenry man had his finest hour in the Athenry jersey. Gerry Keane made a welcome return to the side after being out of the game for two years with injury and played a stormer at corner back. Beside him Eamonn Keogh and Gerry Dempsey never put a foot wrong. The half back line of Pascal Healy, Brian Feeney and Paul Hardiman gave their best performance of the year while at midfield John Hardiman marking Joe Cooney could not be faulted. Beside him Pat Higgins played a captains part from the start until the end and his brother Declan scored one of the best points of the game. Others to impress were newcomers' goalie Michael Crimmins, Brian Hanley and Brendan Morrissey who returned earlier in the year from the USA with a county medal foremost in on his mind.
Joe Rabbitte took his vital goal well and was in the thick of the action for most of the game, the same could be said for Cathal Moran who played very well when moved to mark Padraic Kelly. Young Donal Moran came on in the closing stages and played his part as did Tommy Morrissey, Gerry Rabbitte and the injured John Conway who played in the earlier rounds of the championship. For many of Athenry's faithful supporters and followers this was a long overdue success at senior level. There were a number of interesting statistics- the Higgins brothers set a unique record of captaining county championship winning teams- Brian at minor, Declan at junior and Pat at senior. The panel also had a large number of brothers - three Keoghs and Higgins's, two Morrisseys, Hardimans, Rabbittes and Morans.
Athenry: Michael Crimmins; Gerry Dempsey, Eamonn Keogh, Gerry Keane; Paschal Healy (0-1, sideline cut), Brian Feeney, Paul Hardiman; JJohn Hardiman, Brendan Keogh, Pat Higgins Capt., Brendan Morrissey, Cathal Moran (0-4, all frees); Brian Hanley (1-0), Joe Rabbitte (1-O), Declan Higgins (0-1). Subs, Donal Moran for Brian Hanley and P.J. Molloy for Declan Higgins.
Team captain 29 year old Pat Higgins completed a unique family record when leading Athenry to victory. A week earlier his younger brother Brian had captained Athenry to victory in the minor hurling final while the year before older brother Michael was captain of the victorious junior A team and in 1987 another younger brother Declan was captain of the county under 21 winning side.
The newly crowned champions easily accounted for St. Domincks in the Connacht Final. Dominating from start to finish at Athleague on a miserable day Athenry went on to record a 3-20 to 2-3 victory.
County Under 16 Hurling Championship
It took extra time in a replay to decide the winners of the under 16 final at Carnmore in another cracking game with Turloughmore. Two fiercely committed teams again gave all they had, as they had done in the drawn game, and a large attendance was treated to all that is best in hurling. The absorbing contest eventually ended with Athenry ahead 2-13 to 2-10.
A slight breeze in the opening half-favored Turloughmore but Athenry settled quickly and Eugene Cloonan landed a point from a free to opening the scoring. A goal by Gary Hurney and point by Joseph Coen put Turloughmore ahead, but points by Eugene Cloonan and Aidan Poniard kept Athenry in touch and they trailed 1-4 to 0-4 at the break. Darren Shaughnessy and David Donohue exchanged points early in the second half before Eugene Cloonan put his side ahead with a point and a goal after his shot came back off the crossbar. Shaughnessy and Donal Moore put Turloughmore ahead again with points, Thomas Howley leveled for Athenry but Shaughnessy replied to keep his side ahead. Richie Brady leveled again from a '65 and it looked all over when Gary Hurney sent the ball between the posts with time almost up, but, up popped Richie again to point another '65 and send the game into extra time.
Two minutes into the first period and Turloughmore were four up points; it looked bad for Athenry at the changeover when they still trailed by a goal. They got back into the game, to the delight of the Athenry crowd, when Thomas Howley landed the equalizer from 50 meters and with five minutes remaining took a pass from Ray Treacy and goaled from close range. This proved to be the decisive score and Athenry's defense stood firm for the remaining minutes under extreme pressure.
Thus ended a classic under-age final that showed the strength of hurling at this level in both parishes and the passion and rivalry that exists when the sides meet. Athenry had outstanding players in defense in Liam O'Brien, Richie Brady, Diarmuid Cloonan and Donal Keane, at midfield Maurice Dempsey and Shane Donohue held their own while forwards Aidan Poniard, David Donohue, Eugene Cloonan, Ray Treacy and Thomas Howley excelled.
Team: Cathal Daly; Stephen Kelly, Donal Keane, Diarmaid Cloonan; Liam O'Brien, Richard Brady (0-4), Aidan Cahill; Maurice Dempsey, Shane Donoghue; Mattie Egan, Aldan Poniard (0-2), David Donoghue (0-2); Ml. Morrissey, Eugene Cloonan (1-3), Raymond Treacy. Subs., Thomas Howley (1-2), Jarlath Fahy and, Kevin McCarthy.
County Minor Hurling Championship
Athenry entered the minor championship as titleholders with an ambition to 'put two back to back'. It was a formidable task that brought with it a set of pressures not experienced the previous year. That team captain Brian Higgins was able bring home the cup was testimony to the dedication and discipline of all the squad. The first game of the group resulted in defeat at the hands of Loughrea and so the team was under pressure from the start. They overcame Craughwell before their second weekend away in Cork City defeating Sarsfields and Blackrock in prearranged friendlies. On their return they defeated Killimordaly to reach a quarterfinal against their great rivals Turloughmore. Played in difficult conditions at Craughwell, Athenry secured victory by the narrowest of margins.
Caslegar emerged as worthy semi-final adversaries, a good start may be half the battle but it doesn't guarantee victory as they discovered at Ballindereen. Leading by eight points approaching half time they eventually lost by the same margin in an entertaining and skillfully contested game. Edward Brady and Eugene Cloonan stemmed their advance with two brilliantly taken goals minutes before the half-time break. On the resumption of play Athenry maintained their dominance, inspired in particular by the midfield pair of Darragh Burke and Brian Higgins and the rock solid defensive play of David Howley winning by 2-16 to 1-11.
The emergence of Clarinbridge over Loughrea as finalists surprised many in the county and they proved their worth in the Final by forcing a draw in the last few minutes. Two points deep into injury time deprived Athenry of their second minor title in succession. It was a close call and Athenry were a little lucky not to concede a goal during those hectic final minutes. By the time the replay came round they had regrouped under the tutelage of team manager P.J. Molloy. This time there were no slip ups, against a strong wind in the first half, they played a 'holding game' and achieved a five point all score line at half time. In the second half Athenry turned on the power which had characterized their play in earlier games and recorded a 2-11 to 1-7 victory.
The winners certainly proved to the large attendance that they were the superior side and were well served by a solid full-back line of Donal Keane, David Howley and John Feeney while Emmett Caulfield, Eugene Cloonan and Brian Higgins caused endless problems at the other end of the field. A goal by Brian Higgins after three minutes seemed to spark Athenry into life before they proceeded to take over completely and were six points clear after eleven minutes. In the second half the outstanding Emmett Caulfield , who scored four points, kept Athenry in control. The game was totally put beyond Clarenbridge's reach when Eugene Cloonan hit a goal from close range.
The worthy winner of the'Man of the Match' award was the tigerish ball winner Emmet Caulfield and one of the teams most consistent players throughout the year was David Howley whose defensive displays saved Athenry on many occasions.
Athenry: Emmet Morrissey; Donal Keane, David Howley, John Feeney; Michael Loughnane, Richard Brady, Michael Treacy; Daragh Burke (0-1), Liam Hoyne; Aidan Poniard, Emmet Caulfield (0-4), Brian Higgins (1-2); Diarmuid Burns (0-1), Eugene Cloonan (1-2), Eddie Brady (0-1).
Man-of-the-match: Emmet Caulfield.
Galway minor hurlers displayed a maturity and confidence beyond their years when the Matt Murphy trained side won a thrilling victory in the All-Ireland Final defeating Cork by 2-10 to 1-11. In the semi-final against Kilkenny it took an injury time goal to secure victory while on this occasion it took a 54th minute goal by Eddie Brady, his second on the day, to decide the destination of the Irish Press Cup. Brian Higgins was also a member of the Galway minor panel.
County Under 14 Hurling Championship
It was Athenry's year in under 14 hurling when, for the third time, they won the Joe Sammon Cup. Athenry qualified from a strong group, which included Gort and Clarenbridge, and were drawn against Mullagh in the quarterfinal. In ideal conditions at Ballinasloe they recorded a comfortable victory on an evening when luck deserted their opponents. A seven point win over Loughrea in the semi final and Athenry had qualified to meet Turloughmore in the county final.
It was wind and rain this time at Duggan Park, but it didn't bother Athenry who gave their best display of the year with a 2-8 to 1-3 victory. Early goals by David Donohue and Kieran Flannery gave the winners a comfortable lead and helped convincingly dismiss the challenge of Turloughmore. At half time the score read 2-5 to 0-1 in favour of Athenry who went on to lift the title with an emphatic eight-point margin.
A feature of the team's progress throughout the championship was the close marking of an excellent defense, which conceded few scores. The final was no exception, midfield was well in control and the forwards took their chances well against a strong Turloughmore defense. David Donohue was top scorer with a goal and five points; Kieran Flannery hit a goal and a point with young Cormac Cloonan adding two points.
Team:Liam Howley, Derek Carroll, Diarmuid Cloonan (Capt.), Martin Coffey, David Glynn, Kevin McCarthy, Thomas Kelly, Shane Donohue, Cian Burke, Kieran Flannery, Kevin Higgins, David Casserly, Cormac Cloonan, David Donohue, Michael John Quinn.
County Under 21 Hurling Championship
Athenry under 21's were lucky to avoid defeat against Portumna in the county semi final at Ballinasloe. Five points down early in the second half, Athenry got right back into the game, with an excellent goal by Emmet Caulfield after a move involving Brian Hanley and Dara Burke. They each added points with Donal Moran before Brian Hanley leveled the game with an excellent long range point for a draw.
In the replay, proof that a week is a long time in sport as it is claimed in politics, was very evident as Athenry romped home victorious by 3-10 to 0-4. Victory was assured as early as the thirty-third minute when Emmet Caulfield goaled to put his side ahead 2-5 to 0-4. Athenry's forwards proceeded to inflict further punishment on the Portumna backs for the remainder of the game. Donal Moran's five point from play sealed victory and a place in the county final.
The under 21 side completed a clean sweep of the 1994 titles when they defeated Ardrahan by 1-7 to 0-5 at Clarinbridge in the county final. Like so many finals the main ingredient of this final was fierce competitiveness and tight marking. When it came to the crunch Athenry answered all the pressure questions to record their historic fifth championship success of the year.
A magnificent and resolute defense almost completely shut out the Ardrahan attack restricting them to frees for their scoring opportunities. Corner back John Feeney was outstanding for Athenry and the greatest source of frustration for the losers. He consistently broke up Ardrahan attacks and was the one player more than most to inspire his side to victory.
After clocking up nine first half wides in what had to be a worrying trend, the winners led 0-4 to 0-3 at the interval. Early second half points by Donal Moran and Liam Hoyne edged Athenry ahead 0-6 to 0-4 before two significant incidents. The first came in the forty-seventh minute when center back John Conway was sent off for a heavy challenge on Michael Lynskey. When Ivan Linnane pointed the resultant free to leave just one point between the sides-14 man Athenry appeared in a vulnerable position. Their answer though could not have been more emphatic.
Six minutes from full time center forward Emmet Caulfield, one of the major second half influences on the match, picked up a Richie Brady free and hammered home the sliotar to the net for a real match winning score.
Team: Michael Crimmins, Richie Brady, Colin Byrne, John Feeney, David Howley, John Conway, Brian Higgins, Dara Burke, Liam Hoyne, Brian Hanley, Emmet Caulfield, Eddie Brady, Gerry Feeney, Ronan Kilcommins, Donal Moran, Sub: Eugene Cloonan
North Board Junior A Football Champions
A second half Brian Hanley goal paved the way for a morale boosting North Board Junior A football final victory for Athenry over Headford at Claregalway. The sides were deadlocked at halftime at two points each but Brian's goal set Athenry up to take the title in a low scoring 1-5 to 1-3 game. Headword went four points up early in the second half but the goal proved valuable and with points by John Hardiman, Roy O'Brien and Cormac McCarthy the winners finished strongly.
In the County Final Hurling defenders Brian Feeney (Athenry) and Nigel Shaughnessy (Loughrea) should have been in opposition but they were on call in Ballinasloe for a National Hurling League tie instead. Athenry certainly missed the power and spirited play of Feeney and narrowly failed to complete a county championship double in both codes.
Loughrea having led 0-7 to 0-2 at halftime Athenry hurling skipper Pat Higgins combined with Roy O'Brien to set up Michael Higgins for a superb point just after the restart. Brian Hanley then shot another and now there was only a goal between them. But Loughrea re-grouped as Athenry missed some great chances and points by Martin Malone (free) and the excellent Dermot Staunton had the Loughrea men five up again.
Athenry made a lot of changes in a bid to pull it out of the fire but two points off frees by Cormac McCarthy only served to close the gap to three points and Loughrea held out with their defence playing particularly well in the closing stages.
Athenry: A. Archer; P. Kelly, P. Healy, T. Gannon; C. Byrne, D. Monaghan, B. Burke; T. Morrissey, J. Hardirnan; C. McCarthy (0-3, all frees), P. Higgins, M. Higgins (0-2); J. Foran, R. O'Brien, B. Hanley (0-1). Subs. M. Cahill, M. Gannon and K. Coughlan.
Club's Annual General Meeting
At a well attended AGM in the Community Hall club chairman Peader Monaghan welcomed everyone and Vice President Fr. Tony King opened the meeting with a prayer for all deceased members especially Monsignor Michael J Mooney P.P., Paddy Kelly from Castlelambert and former hurler Mark Donnellan.
The curtain came down on a memorable year and the celebrations at the annual social in Ffrench's were unique as the silverware on display exemplified. All the major trophies had been won by the club and players had represented the county in various grades with distinction - Shane and David Donohue, Diarmuid Cloonan (U14), Aidan Poniard, Richard Brady, Liam O'Brien and Mattie Egan (U16), Eddie Brady and Brian Higgins (Minor), Brendan Keogh, Brian Feeney, Gerry Keane, Cathal Moran and Joe Rabbitte (Senior), Declan Higgins (Junior), P J Molloy, Mixie Donohue, Luke Glynn and Paddy Gannon (Masters)