A blood and thunder National Hurling League Final at Croke Park represented the latest chapter in Galway's superiority over Tipperary when they recorded a 2-16 to 4-8 victory. Pat Higgins replaced Pete Finnerty, who got married the previous day, during the game and didn't look out of place at wing back.
One of the biggest G.A.A. stories of the year was the suspension of Tony Keady for playing a game in New York and a threat by Galway to pull out of the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary. Team manager Cyril Farrell expressed bitter dissappointment over the G.A.A.'s handling of what became popularily known as the Tony Keady affair. The Galway star was suspended along with Gort's Michael Helebert and Kiltormer's Aidan Staunton for twelve months for playing illegally. In a bizzare case, that most fairminded people in the Association felt was not justified, the Central Council of the G.A.A. made a scapgoat of the Galway centre back and his two team-mates. The players appealed the decision but lost by twenty votes to eighteen and Galway were deprived of their star player for the All-Irealnd semi-final against Tipperary. What was more amazing was that Tipperary voted to lift the ban while Connacht Council members voted against the Galwaymen.
Galway's three-in-a-row dream died at the hands of Tipperary and referee John Denton at Croke Park when they lost the semi-final by 1-17 to 2-11. In a most controversial game the Wexford referee made some appaling decisions against Galway and not for the first time officialdom ended the reign of a great side.
In the minor semi-final Galway lost to a Clare side, that reached their first ever minor final, by 1-15 to 0-16. Brendan Keogh, Cathal Moran and Brendan Morrissey were on the team. A bad week for Galway came to its inevitable conclusion when the county's under 21 side lost to Tipperary by 1-14 to 1-7. An unfancied side stayed in touch until the final ten minutes of a hard fought but sporting game before a large crowd. The Galway side included Gerry Keane and Joe Rabbitte while Eamonn Keogh came on as a sub. Pat Higgins and John Hardiman were on the Connacht team that defeated Munster in a cracking Railway Cup final by 4-16 to 3.17 at Wexford Park.
It was no surprise that Athenry, the most consistant team in the county championship for the previous three years, were again installed as favourites to win the county title. Tragedy marred the commencement of the championship when Abbeyknockmoy player John Blade collapsed and died while playing against Mullagh at Kenny Park. Twenty-four year old John, whose brother Pat was also a member of the side, was a forceful and committed forward who played a prominent part in his sides historic championship success in 1988.
Athenry were flattered by their ten point margin of victory over St. Thomas' but still always looked in control in their opening game at Pearse Stadium. P.J.Molloy continued to belie his vetern status with deft touches and killer instinct from half chances. He scored three goals with all the finesse of a forward at his sharpest and another three points from frees.
With Athenry leading by 3-2 to 1-3 at the break they went further ahead five minutes after the restart when Brian Feeney finished a good move to the net. As the half wore on it was obvious that Athenry would run out winners and seven minutes from the end P. J. Molloy struck for his third goal to wrap up the points. The final score read 5-8 to 1-10. In their next game against Tynagh the pre-match predictions of a onesided encounter proved all too accurate. Athenry coasted to a 4-15 to 1-5 victory over the east Galway side at Ballinasloe.
They continued their successful run when they emerged the right side of a bissare scoreline 3-2 to 2-1 against Kinvara at Ballindereen. This incredable scoreline defies logical explanation but a combination of hostile weather conditions, solid defences and some appaling finishing contributed to this scoring drought.
Billy Caulfield was in commanding form at full back and completely snuffed out the threat posed by Ger Curtin while Anthony Jennings, Paul Hardiman and Gerry Keane played some good hurling. The match settling score came eight minutes from time when Brian Feeney pounced on a loose ball in the Kinvara square and rattled the net.
Athenry secured their place in the county quarter-finals when they held off a second half challenge by Gort at Ballindereen. In a far from convincing performence they looked in trouble but dug deep to regain their composure. The winners opend a 0-7 to 0-3 lead at the break but it was a different Gort side that emerged for the second half. A goal from a penalty for Gort by county goalie John Commins put his side ahead by two points and after three more unanswered points by Michael Cahill the south Galway men looked poised for victory. But Athenry displaying a far higher level of fitness finished stronger with good points from P. J. Molloy, Joe Rabbitte, Brendan Morrissey and Gerry Dempsey to record a 0-15 to 1-9 victory.
Athenry's version of Hurricane Hugo blew into Kenny Park ,according to the Connacht Tribune, propelling them into the county semi-final and in the process wrecking Abbeyknockmoy's dream of two-in-a-row county titles. In a first half of unabated action the champions held their own and led by 1-6 to 1-5 at halftime. In the opening minutes Athenry ran ragged knocking over four points without reply but Abbey clawed their way back into contention. The 6,000 plus crowd that thronged Kenny Park to see the game were not dissappointed. The torrid but seldom ill tempered exchanges and the longing of both sides to prove a point after the previous year's final were the ingredents of an intriguing game.
In the second half a seris of inspirational individual displays from John Hardiman, Gerry Keane and Pat Higgins wiped out Abbeyknockmoy's resistance around midfield. Corner back Dermot Monaghan was the inspiration of the defence often emerging from clusters of ash with the sliotar enconsed in his left hand while Billy Caulfield and Paul Hardiman also hurled with authority. Up front the strength of Pascal Healy at centre field and the opportunism of P.J. Molloy, who scored two goals from play, presented too potent of a package for Abbeyknockmoy to handle. A goal by P.J. Molloy two minutes into the second half followed by a point from Pat Higgins put Athenry ahead and their dominance was rarely challenged before they secured a 2-11 to 1-8 victory.
Those who believed that St. Thomas'could repeat the achievements of Killimordaly, Abbeyknockmoy and Athenry by winning their first county senior title were brought back to the real world with a bang at Kenny Park by Athenry. Almost 10,000 people crowded into the Athenry venue expecting a tightly contested semi-final - instead they witnessed a massacre. Athenry teeming with talent and a fierce will to win attitude were on a dfiierent level.
Their superiority was most evident in attack where all six forwards scored at least twice each. St. Thomas' failure to raise a flag in the second half tells its own story with Athenry coasting to a 3-18 to 1-3 victory.
Joe Cooney's exceptional ability and overall workrate plus two excellant saves by Tommy Kenny ended Athenry's bid to win their second title. The driving wind and rain never relented at St. Brendan's Park Loughrea and made a dreary setting for the County Final between Sarsfields and Athenry. It was never a classic final and Sarsfields doggedly resiliant approach and relentless harrying of a strangely apprehensive Athenry side was a major factor.
Once they had failed to extract even the slightest advantage from the backing of the gale force wind in the first half there was an inevitability about the result. In the opening ten minutes Athenry hit six soul destroying wides and to make matters worse Tommy Kenny denied Pat Higgins and Pascal Healy goals with two reaction saves before half-time. A goal by Padraic Kelly gave Sarsfields the lead but point by P.J.Molloy and Pascal Healy left it deadlocked at half-time 1-3 to 0-6.
On the resumption Sarsfields grabbed the initative and another goal by Peter Cooney three minutes into the half was just what they needed. They delivered the killer blow after twelve minutes , albeit fortuituously, when a forty yard free by Joe Cooney went all the way to the Athenry net.
After that there was plenty of effort from Athenry but scores failed to materlise and there was no stopping the John McIntyre trained side. For Athenry things didn't go according to plan and their young stars who shone so brightly in the semi-final were given nothing by the Sarsfield's defence. At midfield John Hardiman and Gerry Keane aided Pascal Healy and Pat Higgins made valiant efforts but unfortunately for them it was not to be and it was jubliant Sarsfields that collected the county cup for the second time.
Team: Mattie Gannon, Michael Cahill, Billy Caulfield, Dermot Monaghan, Paul Hardiman, Eamonn Keogh, Brendan Keogh, John Hardiman, Gerry Keane, Declan Higgins, Pascal Healy, Brian Feeney, Joe Rabbitte, Pat Higgins, P. J. Molloy. Subs: Brendan Morrissey and Gerry Dempsey.
The Athenry minor hurling team qualified for the county final by defeating Ardrahan by 2-12 to 1-8 in the semi-final at Ballindereen. Their bid to become the first club side to win four-in-a-row was denied by Oranmore/Maree. The west Galway side brought to an end two decades in the wilderness with a 1-13 to 2-6 win again at Ballindereen. Athenry were severly hampered going into the game by a hand injury to team captain Brendan Keogh and their request for a one week postponment was refused by the Hurling Board. County minor star Cathal Moran scored 2-3 of Athenry's total but the failure of the other forwards to take their chances proved costly to Athenry.
Team: Ronan Kilcommins, Noel Burke, Jim Feeney, David Brody, Gerry Treacy, Brendan Keogh, Patrick Hession, Brendan Morrissey, Pat Hoyne, Cathal Moran, Francis Flannery, David Crimmins, John Conway, Richard Caulfield, Eric Connolly.
A frustrating year for Athenry came to a memorable conclusion when the Club's under 21 side completely overwhelmed Ardrahan in the county final at Duggan Park, Ballinasloe. Not even a heavy fog could camouflage their artistry in a game which fell far below expectations. Athenry, who defeated Loughrea in the semi-final by 3-13 to 1-6, were a simply a class apart as they chalked up another huge score 4-17 to 1-6 on their way to a third consecutive title.
With hardly a weak link on their team, the defence was dominant throughout, midfield cleaned up while their attack made hay against a loose marking Ardrahan side. None of the backs were rarely troubled with Eddie Fox on the left wing particularly prominent. The forceful Gerry Keane and stylish Brendan Keogh had things largely their own way at midfield. In attack Cathal Moran, Joe Rabbitte, Brian Feeney and Martin Fitzpatrick tortured the Ardrahan defence time and time again.
As the second quarter of the game developed Athenry's superiority became more pronounced and points from Brian Feeney, Joe Rabbitte, Brendan Keogh, Cathal Moran and Martin Fitzpatrick put them ahead by 1-7 to 0-3 at the interval. Ardrahan badly needed an uplift early in the second half but it didn't come. Instead Athenry turned on the style and subsequently tookover to record a very impressive victory.
In the Connacht Tribune John McIntyre wrote 'The conclusion that Athenry is poised to dominate Galway club hurling at senior level in the years ahead is inescapable'.
Team: Ronan Kilcommins, Paddy Kelly, Eamonn Keogh, Brendan Burke, Paul Hardiman, Tommy Morrissey, Eddie Fox, Gerry Keane, Brendan Keogh, Cathal Moran, Brian Feeney, Brendan Morrissey, Martin Fitzpatrick, Joe Rabbitte, Neil Clarke. Sub: Gerry Treacy, Terence Gannon and Pat Hoyne.