|Athenry County Under 21 Hurling Champions (For the fifth year in a row)
Front Row: (left to right) Pat Hoyne, Terence Gannon, Jim Feeney, Patrick Hession, Brendan Keogh, Paddy Kelly, Neil Clarke, Cathal Moran. Back Row: (left to right) Conrad Byrnes (Manager) David Crimmins, Ronan Kilcommins, Paul Hardiman, Joe Rabbitte, Brendan Morrissey, Gerry Treacy and Brian Feeney.
Oranmore-Maree made a welcome return to the county senior hurling championship in their opening game against Athenry. There chances were marred however by a controversial dressingroom row that resulted in the two Holland brothers not fielding. Athenry went on to record an emphatic 1-17 to 1-7 victory that could have been a lot more except for some appalling shooting. Against St.Thomas's in their next game the scoreline of 3-12 to 0-3 tells the tale of a one sided game as Athenry dominated throughout.
Liam Mellows surprised Athenry in the next round at Pearse Stadium winning by 2-8 to 1-9. In an explosive start to the second half the city side got the tonic of two fast goals and hurled with great spirit to the end. Full credit was due to Liam Mellows as this was a stirring and well-deserved victory for them. For Athenry it was a game they played well below their potential and generally gave a low-key display. Joe and Gerry Rabbitte did their best to get the team moving while Tommy Morrissey was a pillar of strength in defense.
Athenry needed a win or draw in the final round against Killimordaly to qualify. In an epic encounter that would have done justice to a county final - a match full of raw intensity, brimful of passion, topped off with a cliffhanger finish. With victory priceless not to mention the local rivalry generated by the fixture, both sides tore into each other from the start. However Killimordaly failed to make full use of a strong wind but were still ahead at the break by 1-3 to 0-3.
If there was a sting in the first half exchanges it was nothing compared to the action on the resumption. A two-goal bust, midway through the half, by Killimordaly in the space of three minutes rocked Athenry. From then on however they laid siege on the Killimordaly goal with Paul Hardiman and Dermot
Monaghan storming into the game. Dermot sent over four splendid points followed by one each from Paul Hardiman and Gerry Keane to leave the minimum between the sides with two minutes remaining. In the hectic final minutes Athenry's relentless pursuit of an equalizer finally paid dividends when Cathal Moran converted a free to earn his side a draw and place in the quarter-finals.
Still favorites in some quarters to win the county championship Athenry made heavy work of dispatching the challenge of Meelick-Eyrecourt in a poor quarter-final at Duggan Park Ballinasloe. With the injured Brendan Lynskey unable to start for the east Galway side Athenry's task was not as difficult as in the previous years encounter. An early string of wides by the winners - they shot ten in the opening half- could have proved expensive. But two-goal hero Dermot Monaghan gave them a half-time lead of 2-6 to 0-3 that hardly seemed enough having to face the influential elements for the second period.Brendan Morrissey sent the ball to the net in the 54th minute and put the game beyond Meelick-Eyrecourt and at the end they were well ahead 3-10 to 1-9.
Youth had its fling in an exciting county semi-final against Sarsfields at St. Brendan's Park Loughrea when Athenry shocked the Bullaun-New Inn combination with two decisive late goals by Pat Higgins and Gerry Keane. The prize of a County Final place hung precariously in the balance for fifty-three minutes of this fiercely competitive encounter. Having trailed by 0-6 to 0-3 at the interval the second half brought a marked improvement in Sarsfields fortunes. Aidan Donoghue clawed his side back into contention with a barrage of pressure scores. By the 43rd minute they were ahead by two points but Cathal Moran was causing problems for their defence and landed two vital points for Athenry as the game entered the crucial period.
The inspiration behind Athenry's late surge undoubtedly came from the powerhouse display of Joe Rabbitte who switched to midfield and proceeded to dominate the aerial exchanges. The sides were still level with four minutes left and a draw seemed likely but Athenry had other ideas. Gerry Keane moved to full-forward and was well positioned to first time a cross from Cathal Moran to the net. Seconds later he added a point from play before the sharpest of forward predators P J Molloy cut over a sideline ball from an acute angle. These scores catapulted Athenry into their fourth final in five years.
Overall the winners were indebted to their defence in which Paul Hardiman at centre-back snuffed out the threat of Joe Cooney while behind him Pascal Healy, Brian Feeney and Billy Caulfield were seldom beaten. Brendan Keogh, Cathal Moran, Pat Higgins, Dermot Monaghan and P J Molloy also made significant contributions to this victory.
Kiltormer became the first club in fourteen years to retain their county title when an injury time goal was decisive in a hard fought and closely contested final. Played at St. Brendan's Park Loughrea it was rough justice on Athenry who had produced the most fluent hurling throughout the hour and were arguably the better team but luck deserted them on the day. Losing three finals in four years was not easy for players and management to take. There were certainly questions asked about a head high tackle on Joe Rabbitte and Justin Campbell's overcarrying which led to the vital goal. Joe Rabbitte did not even get a free despite being clearly dazed and suffering a nasty facial wound.
Athenry were moving well at the time with John Hardiman, the revelation of the hour, and Brendan Keogh continuing to rule the roost at midfield. The sides were level at half-time 1-6 to 0-9 and Kiltormer only scored once in the opening twenty minutes of the second half. Athenry threaghtned but failed to pull away and left the door open for the east Galway side. Points by Gerry Keane, Cathal Moran and a rousing one by P J Molloy from play gave Athenry 0-12 to 1-7 lead. Kiltormer were awarded a dubious penalty which was converted by Conor Hayes despite Patrick Hession's best effort to save. Joe Rabbitte leveled the game for the seventh time when he brilliantly fielded a Pascal Healy free and planted the sliotar between the posts. Damien Curley and Cathal Moran exchanged points before Tommy Kilkenny's late late goal after Justin Campbell seemed to have taken too many steps. Somehow Athenry lifted themselves from this crushing blow to launch one final fling. Cathal Moran had no luck and his shot for a goal seemed to hit the Kiltormer keeper and was cleared off the line. Had Athenry emerged victorious most of the team could have claimed their share of the credit. Indeed, Athenry were fairly well served in most positions and a great number of their players did better than their opponents from an individual point of view.
Team: Patrick Hession, Pascal Healy, Brian Feeney, Billy Caulfield, Eammon Keogh, Paul Hardiman, Gerry Keane, John Hardiman, Brendan Keogh, Brendan Morrissey, Joe Rabbitte, Cathal Moran, Dermot Monaghan, Pat Higgins, P J Molloy.
Galway senior hurlers suffered their worst defeat in the championship since 1984 when defeated by Tipperary 2-15 to 1-10 in a disappointing All-Ireland semi-final. Most of the Galway team failed to play up to form but the young Athenry trio of Brendan Keogh, Joe Rabbitte and Gerry Keane did not let their side down. Gerry Keane had a fine tussle with the great John Leahy, more than held his own and showed great promise.
The county minor team also failed to a highly rated Tipperary side in their semi-final losing by 2-15 to 1-13. Ronan Kilcommins played at midfield on the side, which was trained by P J Molloy.
Galway qualified for the All-Ireland under21 hurling final with a three point win over Munster champions Cork in a classic high scoring contest played at Ennis. The game produced some tremendous hurling and many excellent scores with Galway ahead at the end by 2-19 to 4-10. A goal by Kevin Murray put Cork in front at the end of the third quarter, but six marvelous points without reply earned Galway a place in the final against Offaly. Kiltormer's Justin Campbell was the star of the game but there were memorable contributions from Cathal Moran, who scored seven points, and Joe Rabbittee who notched a goal and a point. Brendan Keogh had an excellent game at midfield while in defense Paul Hardiman and Brian Feeney also contributed greatly to one of the most exciting games of the year.
The Jarlath Cloonan managed side captured the county's fifth All-Ireland title with a comphrensive 2-17 to 1-9 victory over Offaly. "Once the second half had reached the midway point at Limerick Gaelic Grounds there were no doubts about the outcome. During that time Galway turned in as fine a thirty minutes of hurling as any team from the county has produced. This display of attacking potency was led by 'man of the match' Joe Rabbittee. His massive physical power, superb fielding, non-stop work rate and nuggets of pure inspiration gave the Offaly defense a giant sized headache, which they could not handle. Cathal Moran was always on the prowl to capitalize on any half chance and scoreed two great points from play." wrote Francis Farragher in the Connacht Tribune. An injury forced Paul Hardiman to retire before halftime with Brendan Keogh moving to center-back and going on to play a vital role in Galway's win. Team captain Brian Feeney was strong and uncompromising at full back and proved that he had the leadership qualities for the job. Athenry's contribution, five players, team captain and manager, in an All-Ireland victory made it a memorable day for Club's supporters.