Senior Team prove pundits wrong and reach Semi-Final
Having endured one of the worst years on and off the field Athenry's prospect of making an impact in the 1986 senior hurling championship looked bleak. In his championship preview in the Connacht Tribune John McIntyre rated them 19th out of the twentyone teams taking part. He wrote: "The problems with the Kenny Park hindred the Club's championship preparations in 1985. Also too many of their key players failed to produce the goods and on the overall evidence of last year it will be a long, long time before the Club launches a serious bid to win their first ever senior title. True, Athenry have many promising young players coming up through juvenile ranks but a couple of them who graduated to the senior side last year made little impact". Forecast for 1986: "Athenry will have to step up their 1985 form to aviod relegation".
Having surprised Gort in an open draw game many pundits including John McIntyre had second thoughts. A nine point win, 3-17 to 4-5, over Killimor in the opening round of the championship clearly showed that they were bound for far more successful innings in 1986. In a solid workmanlike performence Athenry had excellant defenders in Pascal Healy, Seamus Kearns and Billy Caulfield. The midfield paring of Pat Higgins and John Hardiman worked well while forwards P.J. Molloy, Gerry Dempsey, Dermot Monaghan and Mixie Donohue took their chances.
Ardrahan were expected to put a quick stop to Athenry's gallop in the second round but they snatched the points in a rousing finish. The south Galway side were left wondering at the end how they ended up the losers. Athenry went ahead for the first time two minutes from the end. Two great points by P.J. Molloy levelled the scores before Pascal Healy burst forward to give his side the lead with his third long range point. Another point by P. J. on the stroke of time earned Athenry a hard won victory by 0-12 to 0-10 and kept them on course for the knockout stages.
However, despite proving to be a far better side than the prvious year, there was a lot of surprise when Clarinbridge caused an upset in the next round defeating Athenry by 2-9 to 1-10. Winning their first ever championship game since joining the senior ranks three years earlier Clarinbridge caught Athenry on a day when their forwards failed to deliver. P. J. Molloy and Sean Keane got vital scores but it was not enough to save Athenry from a defeat.
Eleven points from the superb P. J. Molloy helped Athenry defeat Ballindereen in their next game at Duggan Park, Ballinasloe. Placed at centrefield the Athenryman covered acres of ground to help his side record an impressive 2-15 to 2-11 and stay in contention for the quarterfinals.
"A farcical tie which did nothing to boost the county championship. An ill prepared Gaeltacht side were totally outclassed by rampant Athenry who were securing a place in the knockout stages of this years title race at Ballindereen". wrote the Connacht Tribune. It summed up another comphrensive victory by 7-11 to 1-7 and that much cherished quarter-final place.
Against a highly fancied Gort, who had earlier defeated Castlegar and Turloughmore, Athenry had to survive a dramatic final minute to record a shock 3-9 to 1-12 win. In the last minute Gort were awarded a penalty but goalkeeper John Commins shot wide in frenzy of excitement.
Athenry mainly through the agency of a most penetrative full-forward , Pat Higgins and the deadly accurate free taking of P.J. Molloy, allied to the heroics of a splendid half-back line of Pascal Healy, Dermot Monaghan and Michael Cahill, earned their just reward. From the throw in Athenry served notice of their intent and led at the interval by 1-5 to 0-6.
They got a dream start to the second period when Gerry Dempsey wrongfooted the Gort defence and banged home a goal. But Gort were not going out without a fight and they kept the pressure up. They went ahead after a goal and a point by Pat Neilan at a vital juncture. Athenry needed something special and Pat Higgins provided it. In a incisive run at the Gort defence, he careered across the front of their goals and although he missed his drive he left the ball teed-up for brother Declan, to finish to the net for the winning goal.
Team: Mattie Gannon, Paul Caulfield, Billy Caulfield, Barry Kearns, Pascal Healy, Dermot Monaghan, Michael Cahill, John Hardiman, Sean Keane, Declan Higgins, Seamus Kearns, P.J. Molloy, Gerry Waldron, Pat Higgins, Gerry Dempsey.
After one of the most closely contested matches of the year, Killimordaly squeesed through to the County Final by a single point against Athenry at Loughrea, and their second succesive against Turloughmore. This narrow defeat by their neighbours was a bitter pill to swallow but their gutsy performance earned many admirers. In the opening half they held their more fancied opponents to one point and were looking like causing an upset.
The second period started badly for the Athenrymen with their defence, which had worked so well in the first half, caught badly. Michael Haverty was given far too much space and almost unchallenged blasted three goals past a badly exposed Mattie Gannon in the Athenry goal. Although obiviously shaken this three goal barrage Athenry re-organised themselves and battled back in contention with five points from P.J. Molloy. Cheered on by their supporters who were in 'good voice' following their minor sides victory over Carnmore. Athenry levelled the scores when Pat Higgins raced past four defenders to blast the ball to the Killimordaly net.
This sencational turn-about in their fortunes gave Athenry the opportunity to go on and win the game. Unfortunately for them they missed a number of good scoring chances before Eanna Ryan put Killimordaly in front with a point from forty yards. In the dying minutes P.J. Molloy, who had already scored 1-6, missed narrowly from two sixty yard frees. It was a game of contrasting fortunes for P.J. who played his heart out in a display comparable to any had played for club or county. Others to impress were Billy Caulfield, Pascal Healy, Dermot Monaghan and Pat Higgins.
Minor Hurling Team grab Title in hectic finish
Fate certainly took a hand in the procedings in the County Minor Final at St. Brendans's Park Loughrea against Carnmore. Facing their fourth succeccive draw Athenry were given the title when a misguided attempt by Carnmore to score a goal from 21 yard free was saved. In the dying seconds Michael 'Bomber'Killilea's shot was blocked by a vigilant Paul Hardiman and got awat to safety. Each of Athenry's three pevious games against............................. ended in a draw the first time out and this was their first game to win outright. The experience gained was invaluable in the final. After playing second fiddle to Carnmore in the opening half they showed far more determination in the second and wrestled the honours from Carnmore.
It all went wrong for Athenry in the opening quarter as Carnmore opened up a six points to nil lead. In one of their few sallies into the Carnmore half corner forward John Rynne raced past the defence to score a tonic goal for Athenry. Two points from Joe Rabbitte and Martin Fitzpatrick saw Athenry play with far more purpose and urgency. At the interval they trailed by 0-10 to 1-2.
Thirty seconds into the second half John Rynne sent over a brilliant point from play before Joe Rabbitte whipped a ball to the net to put Athenry back in contention. Carnmore through all they had at Athenry but their pressure ended without reward. Martin Fitzpatrick levelled the scores with a point from a free and in a hectic finish John Rynne added to his impressive performence with the winning point from play. The final score read 2-7 to 0-12 in favour of Athenry.
Team: Brendan Morrissey, Paddy Kelly, Eamonn Keogh, Brian Feeney, Tommy Lane, Paul Hardiman, Tommy Morrissey, Eddie Fox, Joe Rabbitte, Joe Maloney, Kevin Coyne, Martin Fitzpatrick, Cormac Cullinane, Kevin Holian, John Rynne.
Athenry retained the County Under16 hurling title when they defeated Loughrea in a replayed final at Kinvara by 3-7 to 1-2. It was 1-2 each at half-time and they came under extreme pressure in the second. They held out until ten minutes from the end when a Loughrea goal put them ahead. Athenry refused to give in and Brian Hardiman slotted home two goals in the closing stages to secure a dramitic win.
Team: Cathal Moran, Brendan Morrissey, Paddy Kelly, Brian Hardiman, Gerry Treacy, Brendan Keogh, Paul Hardiman (Capt.) John Nolan, Brian Feeney, Joe Rabbitte, Terence Gannon, Finbar Sherdian, Patrick Hession, Richard Caulfield, Neil Clarke.
The Club's junior football team won the junior B league title defeating Miltown at Caherlistrane. It was all Miltown in the early stages but despite all their pressure they only managed a point by John Waldron. Mixie Donohue, P.J. Molloy and Keith Nevin added points to give Athenry the lead at halftime.
Miltown stormed ahead early in the second half with a goal and a brace of points. Another point by Mixie Donohue and after Kerrill Hanlon nipped in for a goal Athenry finished strongly. Points by John Hardiman and the impressive Keith Nevin secured a deserved a win by 1-6 to 1-4.
Team: Willie Killeen, Michael Cahill, Pascal Healy, Paddy Forde, Tommy Fahy, P. J. Molloy, Pierce Coffey, John Hardiman, Keith Nevin, Francis Holian, Seamus Kearns, Kevin Coyne, Kerrill Hanlon, Stephen Canavan, Mixie Donohue. Sub: Gerry Hansberry.
Gerry Keane played at left half-forward for the Galway Minor team that lost to Offaly by 3-13 to 2-10 in the All-Ireland semi-final. The county under 21 team beat Limerick by 2-10 to 2-6 to reach the final where they recorded an impressive 1-14 to 2-5 win over Wexford at Thurles. Pat Higgins played at left full forward on a Joe Cooney inspired team.
In October the County Board held a special meeting and function in Athenry to celebrate the centenary of the first County Convention held in Kelly's Hotel Athenry on the 24th October 1886. County Chairman Jimmy Halliday welcomed the guests and paid tribute to the officers and players who contributed so much to the Association during the previous hundred years.
Club Chairman Tom Cloonan in his address told delegates that the Club now fielded seven hurling and six football teams. They have over 130 members and enjoy a very supportive relationship with the five primary schools in the parish, the Presentation College and Athenry Vocational School.