Success for Club doesen't come overnight
There were only two national competitions in under age hurling open to all G.A.A. Clubs in the Country- Feile na nGael and the Community Games. Under-age games have a character and intensity all of their own and when two particularly talented teams face each other in the final of these competitions the outcome is likely to be something very special.
Such was the case at Mosney, Co. Meath when Athenry played Farranree from Cork in the All-Ireland Community Games Final. It was a game full of wholehearted endeavour and an abundance of skill. With time almost up Athenry scored the winning goal in one of the most exciting finishes ever seen in an All-Ireland Final.
Success doesn't come overnight and this is certainly true in Athenry juvenile hurling. For years participation was the name of the game but the winning of the 1981 County and Connacht Community Games titles was a significant breakthrough. Shortly after that win Athenry qualified for the semi-final of the West Galway under 13 league against Castlegar. Athenry surprised many including the 'Cashel' side by winning 1-4 to nil and qualified to meet old rivals Turloughmore in the final. Two snap goals early in the final at Oranmore and Athenry were in control. Turloughmore tried very hard to get back in the game but could not catch Athenry in a thrilling finish after they had cut Athenry's lead to two points. The final score was 4-1 to 3-2, with John Rynne and Cormac Cullinane each scoring two goals for Athenry and Martin Fitzpatrick a point.
Because of their poor record in previous years Athenry were included in Division (B) of the under 14 Feile championship. Luck is a factor in every competition and Athenry certainly enjoyed their share in the Feile matches with Maree/ Oranmore and Clarinbridge. Against "Oran" they had a one point-winning margin 2-2 to 2-1 and beat Clarinbridge by two points 1-7 to 2-2. Both were very exciting games. They had a comfortable win over Ardrahan in the next round to reach the county semi-final against pace setters from another group, Kilconieron. Athenry met the challenge fine style winning by 3.4 to 1-2 to qualify for the final.
Loughrea the eventual county (A) winners put paid to Athenry's hopes of representing Galway in the Feile na nGael Finals in Dublin winning by 1-5 to 0-2. However, they could still look forward to the County (B) Final against Annaghdown.
A narrow victory margin in a thrilling game brought great satisfaction to players and supporters alike. lt was all Athenry in the opening half but Annaghdown powered by Tommy Greaney came back into the game and the final whistle was greeted with sighs of relief among Athenry supporters. Athenry scored 1-10 to Annaghdown's 3-1 and the highlights of the game were the displays of team Captain, Martin (Mairt) Fitzpatrick who scored seven points. Paul Moran, Gerard Keane arid Paul Hardiman who was given the difficult task of marking Greaney, Joe Rabbitte who scored 1-1, Kevin Coyne, Cormac Cullinane and John Rynne with a point each were Athenry's other scorers.
Team: Joe Maloney, Brian Feeney, Paul Moran, Kevin Holian, Brendan Keogh, Paul Harridan, Gerard Keane, Kevin Cony, Padraic Smyth, Noel Murphy, John Rynne, Martin Fitzpatrick, (Capt.), Cormac Cullinane, Joe Rabbitte, Cathal Moran.
After the game County Juvenile Board Chairman Aubrey Higgins presented the cup to Martin Fitzpatrick, for him a fitting climax to four years of under 14 hurling with the Club.
The revived under 12 championship provided Athenry with another opportunity of testing their younger players. In a series of exciting games they defeated Gort, Loughrea, Kilconieron and Meelick/ Eyrecourt to qualify for the County Final against Killmor. Unfortunately they lost the final 2-3 to 2-0 but the displays of sharpshooters Cathal Moran, Patrick Hession and Joe Rabbitte and defenders Paul Hardiman and team Captain Brian Feeney was a revelation.
Team: Neil Clarke, Brian Feeney (Capt.) Brendan Madden, Paul Hardiman, Terence Gannon John Nolan Joe Rabbitte, Patrick Hession, David Crimmins, Brendan Keogh, Cathal Moran.
Gold for Hurlers at National Community Games Finals
Disappointment at losing the final was short-lived, the Community Games matches were on and a date with arch rivals Castlegar on their home ground in the County semi-final. Another classic game with the result in doubt right up to the final whistle with Athenry winning by 2-3 to 2-1. The final against Claregalway was easier than expected-Athenry taking the title by 3-6 to 1-0 and a feature of that game was that seven Athenry players scored. They duly retained their Connacht title and were back at Butlins for the National Finals on the second weekend in September. Hurling "fever" had gripped the youngsters of the Parish as the team prepared for the much-talked-about trip and even though the panel was confined to twenty, three times that number showed up for training.
Athenry were drawn against the Leinster champions in the semi-final-a Dublin team from Butterfield. After early uncertainty, a Cormac Cullinane goal settled Athenry who gradually took control and finished clear winners with the score 5-4 to 1-3. The display was a bit disappointing in general despite the easy win but one player stood out-wing forward Eddie Fox. His speed, ball control and accuracy picking off some delightful scores made him man-of-the-match.
"Athenry juveniles do Galway proud with Community Games win' was the heading on a report of the final in the Connacht Tribune. It continued "Juvenile hurlers from Cork and Galway played a thrilling Community Games All-Ireland Final and for the first time in the thirteen years of the games the National trophy crossed the Shannon. Athenry representing Galway surpassed all expectations to snatch victory from Cork's Farranree in the last seconds of a memorable game.
With brilliant hurling from start to finish this game had an electric atmosphere that heightened to near unbearable tension in the suspense-packed closing moments that delighted spectators. The Galway representatives could not in their wildest dreams have expected to succeed against the Cork and Munster champions from the famed Glen Rovers and Na Piarsiagh Clubs.
But for them and their loyal band of followers it was a day of unrestrained jubilation winning as they did with a dramatic last minute goal as an undeserved defeat stared them in the face in a maddening race against time.
Aided by a gale force wind in the first half Joe Rabbitte opened the scoring after five minutes for Athenry when he sent a spectacular ground shot to the corner of the net as Athenry desperately tried to build a lead while aided by the elements. Gerard Keane moved from centre back to corner forward and immediately he made his presence felt scoring a goal with team Captain Kevin Coyne sending over a point from a'65'and another magnificent long range one from play. Athenry were ahead 2-2 to nil as halftime approached but suffered a severe blow when Cork's star Mickey Mullins sent a penalty to the net which was followed by a point from play to leave the halftime score 2-2 to 1-1.
Athenry faced a huge task in the second half against the very strong wind not to mention the opposition who were renowned for their scoring ability and winners of the semi-final by 22 points.
It looked anything but good for Athenry as the Cork siege on their goal began but with Brian Feeney, Kevin Holian and Eamonn Keogh forming a powerful full back line and the brilliant Kevin Coyne now at left half back, the Cork boys found scoring difficult. Eventually they succeeded with Mickey Mullins, their superb midfielder, scoring a great goal before he equalised with a smashing sideline cut.
Many a team would have "thrown in the towel' at that stage but not this Athenry side, time and time again Tommy lane and Paul Hardiman defied the Cork boys. Farranree did manage to score two points to take the lead and were denied goals by goalkeeper Joe Maloney who made three diving saves in quick succession.
Trailing by 2 points Athenry could hardly believe they had survived the Cork onslaught and were still in with a chance of winning as the game entered the final minutes. Realising this, they went looking for a goat as the seconds ticked away. With a minute to go they got a chance when John Rynne put Padraic Smyth through but his shot was stopped on the goal line, and cleared. The Munster and All-Ireland champions looked like winners yet again.
But for once Galway's fortunes against Cork were dramatically rescued with a 'Magical' passing movement by five Athenry players that ended with the ball in the Farranree net. Almost on the call of time Eddie Fox, John Rynne, Padraic Smyth and Cormac Cullinane played their part in making an opening for Tommy Morrissey to score the all-important goal with an unstoppable shot. Athenry a point ahead, the ball is pucked out quickly but Kevin Holian and Eamonn Keogh have it covered and clear upfield-the whistle goes and its all over!
"It was a tremendous exciting finish' according to the 'Tribune' "to a razor edge game with a goal just in the nick of time and victory going to the underdogs. As the final whistle sounded hundreds of delirious spectators from Galway ran onto the pitch to congratulate the Athenry players.
The team had captured the imagination of the forge crowd as they outwitted and hurled the best in the game against the odds. Their victory was richly deserved and every player played his part in capturing for Galway a premier juvenile hurling title for the first time. '
On their return to Athenry on Monday they were given a heroes welcome as bonfires blazed and hundreds of people turned out to greet them at the railway station. That spontaneous reception at Athenry and wonderful official one on the following Friday night throughout the whole Parish were memorable occasions.
Team: Joe Maloney, Brian Feeney, Kevin Holian, Eamonn Keogh, Tommy Lane, Gerry Keane, Tommy Morrissey, Paul Hardiman, Padraic Smyth, Eddie Fox, Kevin Coyne (Capt.), John Rynne, Neil Clarke, Joe Rabbitte, Cormac Cullinane. Sub: Brendan Keogh, Noel Murphy, Cathal Moran, John Nolan.
The Connacht Tribune under 13-bicycle championship again attracted a considerable amount of interest. Athenry with impressive wins over Loughrea, Ballygar, Rahoon/Newcastle and Kilrickle/Cappatagle qualified for the semi-final, which was played at Loughrea a week after their All-Ireland success at Mosney. It was a repeat of the previous years under 12 final as Killimor were their opponents.
"Fresh from their great triumph in the Community Games" wrote the Connacht Tribune, "the Athenry lads showed that they appear bound for further success. in years to come with a really impressive display of combination hurling".
A one-goal win for Athenry in a game that had another thrilling finish put them into the final. Joe Maloney gave a magnificent display of goalkeeping particularly in the closing stages when Killimor piled on the pressure. Cormac Cullinane scored a classic goal when he doubled in the air on the dropping ball from a sideline cut by John Rynne. Another goal by Rynne at the start of the second half shocked Killimor but they battled back into contention in the closing stages and would have snatched a late equaliser but for Maloney's saves. The final score read Athenry 2-2 Killimor 1-2.
In the final, Kilconieron emerged as worthy winners with Athenry not producing their true form and missing several good scoring chances early in the game. No one, least of all Athenry, begrudged Kilconieron the in victory because, like Athenry, they too had been without success for a number of years. The County Board presented the Athenry players with a set of Digital watches after the game, which, in a way, lifted their spirits.
The Clubs under 16 hurlers defeated Gort by 2-4 to 1-4 in their first game of the championship with Martin Fitzpatrick and Michael Maloney each scoring 1-2.
Team: John Hardiman, Paul Moran, Gerry Rabbitte, Barry Kearns, Sean McGovern, Anthony Jennings, Gerry Mulkerrins, Niall Cullinane, Joe Morrissey, Tony Ruane, Michael Maloney, Michael Doherty, Kevin Coyne, Francis Flaherty, Martin Fitzpatrick.
Turloughmore who went on to win the County Final proved far too strong for Athenry in the next game and won very easily.
It was, indeed, a most memorable year for Athenry's juveniles-they participated in a total of nine competitions, reached seven finals and won five of them but most important of all was that hurling was thriving among the youth of the Parish.
After being beaten by Kinvara in their first game the Athenry minors came storming back with an excellent win over County champions Turloughmore in their next game. Played at Athenry the champions could not match the speed and skill of several Athenry players who were outstanding. Two goals by John Flaherty and Pat Higgins pulled back a Turloughmore lead of seven points and from then on the winners continued to improve. The scores were level with less than two minutes left when Michael Maloney sent over a free from almost eighty yards to give Athenry the deciding point.
Team: Tommy Fitzpatrick, Gerry Rabbitte, Mark Tully, Stephen Canavan, Hugh Higgins, Gerry Waldron, Pat Kavanagh, Sean Keane, Andrew Finn, Sean Kindregan, Joe Morrissey, Paul Caulfield, John Flaherty, Michael Maloney, Pat Higgins.
With other successes over Pearses and Carnmore Athenry qualified for the County Quarter-Final against Kiltormer. It was all Kiltormer in the opening period and they led by nine points at halftime. The second half was a real thriller as Athenry battled back into contention with Sean Kindregan and Joe Morrissey outstanding. When substitute Niall Cullinane put them ahead with a brilliant goal they looked like winners with three minutes left. But Kiltormer punished a delay by the full back line in clearing the ball and regained the lead. Athenry came storming back and Cullinane again had the ball in the Kiltormer net but the referee awarded a penalty claiming that he had blown the whistle. Gerry Waldron's shot was blocked but dropped over the line. The umpire raised the green flag but the referee overruled him to the disgust of the Athenry players.
Impressive Under 21 B Hurling sucess raises hope for future
Bitterly disappointed most of the minor team were part of the under 21 panel who were determined to make amends. Young Joe Morrissey showed all the signs of a future star with four goals in the opening game of the championship against Tuam Stars, with Athenry winning easily. In their next game against Portumna at Loughrea the East Galway side kept in touch in the opening half but never got control at midfield where Michael Waldron had an outstanding game. Six magnificent points from play for Athenry at the start of the second half ended the game as a contest.
Athenry were through to the County semi-final against a Leitrim side led by former County minor star Gerry Fallon and favourites to win the title. The game started at a hectic pace with both sides striving to gain control. Billy Caulfield caused endless problems for the Leitrim defence and with Seamus Kearns getting the better of Fallon Athenry showed that they were set on winning. The vital score of the game came shortly after halftime. Michael Waldron collected the ball on the left wing, took on the defence and despite several tackles managed to kick the ball to the net for a truly great individual effort. From there on Athenry's superior fitness, speed and determination proved too much for their opponents who never gave up until the final whistle.
Athenry destroyed Salthill's hopes of a historic win in the final at St. Brendan's Park, Loughrea far more easily than the scoreline of 3-9 to 2-3 might suggest.
An early goal by Salthill's John Fallon from a free put Athenry who were very slow to settle at the start, on their guard. An excellent halfback line of Adrian Ruane, Pascal Healy and Gerry Waldron made Salthill's task of scoring very difficult. Behind them a vigilant full back line was always in control and at halftime Athenry led by 0-6 to 1 -2.
The winners piled on the pressure early in the second half and were rewarded with a splendidly worked goal. Pascal Healy collected a ball deep in his own half and with a powerful solo run down the right wing, shaking off several tackles, sent a high ball towards the square. Joe Morrissey was there to first time it to the net for a classic goal with Michael Waldron adding another to give his side a comfortable lead. It was over as a contest when Morrisey caught a high ball shook off the defenders before sending an unstoppable shot to the net. Pascal Healy was without doubt Athenry's man-of-the-match. The Connacht Tribune's report read 'He took this game by the scruff of of the neck and with an all action display of power hurling was the main motivation in Athenrys best moves and eventual victory.' Not far behind him were several other players particularly Adrian Ruane, Dermot Monaghan, Joe Morrissey, the powerful Se6n Kindregan and Seamus Kearns.
Team: Tommy Fitzpatrick, Hugh Higgins, Michael Cahill, Gerry Kelly, Adrian Ruane, Pascal Healy, Gerry Waldron, Sean Keane, Dermot Monaghan, Sean Kindregan, Seamus Kearns, Billy Caulfield, (Capt.), Joe Morrissey, Michael Waldron, Michael Burke. Sub. Michael Coppinger.
Tom Callinan, Chairman of the County Hurling Board presented the cup to team Captain Billy Caulfield after the game.
Club's Senior Hurlers hit all-time low but bounce back
'Hell hath no fury like a forward scorned' wrote Donal Carroll of the Irish Independent in his report of the 1982 Railway Cup Final between Connacht and Leinster at O'Connor Park, Tullamore. He was, of course, referring to P. J. Molloy who clearly infuriated by an umpires decision braved a forest of hurleys to score a dramatic goal with only seconds left and snatch a sensational victory for Connacht hurlers.
In 1977 Molloy became the first Galwayman to head the Annual Nationwide Scoring Charts with 8-69 (93 points). Five years later he powered his way back to the top with the best annual return and a new Galway record. During the year he scored 15-19 (136 points) in 20 games an average of 6.80 points per match and a comfortable lead of 44 points over his nearest rival, Kilkenny's Billy Fitzpatrick.
The previous years County intermediate champions Loughrea were Athenry's opponents in the first round of the senior championship at Pearse Stadium. In the opening half the Athenry forwards persisted in going for goals when points would be much more valuable. Peter Murphy could not be beaten in the Loughrea goal and they led by 1-4 to 0-3 at the break.
A goal by Gerry Maher after halftime put them further ahead and they ended convincing winners by 2-8 to 0-9. It was a poor start for Athenry who lacked direction and wasted too many good scoring chances.
Old rivals Turloughmore were Athenrys next opponents and while the game was always exciting it never had the excitement or tension of previous 'battles'. Playing against the wind and 'hill' at Ballindereen, Athenry started well giving 'Turiough's' forwards very little room. They were doing well until P. J. Molloy crashed in a goal, but to everyone's consternation referee Mick Quaine blew for a free out for a 'third man tackle'. At the interval Turloughmore led by five points 0-8 to 0-3. Athenry reduced the lead after the interval but a goal by Frank Duffy ended their comeback bid. Molloy lashed in another goal for Ahenry but it was not enough to lift his side who went down 1-16 to 1-7.
Hopes of victory against Carnmore in the next game were ended even before the team left the dressingroom. Poor organisation and the failure of key players to show up were the most disappointing aspects of one of the Club's worst defeats in championship hurling. With just fifteen players and not even the Club's own jerseys Athenry faced a Carnmore side that were well in contention for championship honours. To add to Athenry's problems they had to line out without P. J. Molloy who was forced to withdraw with a nose injury. Despite a courageous defensive display Athenry were comprehensively beaten.
The remaining game in the championship looked a mere formality for Sarsfields, but such was not the case as Athenry lined out with a new look side, that played with plenty of heart and determination. Pascal Healy at full back was in devastating form and at halftime Athenry led the favourites. It was anybody's game midway through the second half but a lucky goal for Sarsfields gave them a lead they held until the end.
Team: Billy Caulfield, Jarlath Cloonan, Pascal Healy, Vincent Kelly, Noel Kelly, Michael Gardner, Tom Page, Michael Waldron, Dermot Monaghan, Gerry Hall, Mixie Donohue, Gerry Holian, Michael Flaherty, Tom Cloonan, Jack O'Shea.
The County senior hurling team were well beaten by Kilkenny 2-20 to 2-10 in the All-Ireland semi-final but the County minors qualified for the final with a thrilling one point win over Kilkenny 2-6 to l-8. Gerry Waldron was a member of the minor panel who went on to lose to Tipperary in the final by 2-7 to 0-4.
Pascal Healy was at right halfback on the county under 21 side, which defeated Kilkenny in the semi-final by 1-13 to 1-10 at Mullingar. In the final against Cork at Birr, Galway suffered a heartbreaking defeat, losing by one point which was scored seconds before the final whistle, the score 0-12 to 0-11. Healy gave an impressive performance in both games and could not be faulted.
The introduction of several members of the under 21 side into the senior team was proving successful and the first big test came in the Reeves Cup against Turloughmore. In an entertaining game Athenry held on at the end to win by 3-8 to 3-7 for a victory that was unexpected but well deserved. Later in the year the team travelled north of the border for the first time to play a Middleton selection, which included several Armagh players. Athenry were narrow winners in a hard fought game.
Clontibret G.A.A. Club hosted the Athenry players on a most enjoyable weekend. On Sunday Monaghan provided the opposition and were well defeated by a determined Athenry side with Adrian Ruane having an outstanding game at midfield.
Heavy rain during a close marking All-Ireland Club Camogie Final against Buffers Alley did not help Athenry's chances of winning their second title. Still they started well with two points by Teresa Duane and Mary Hobbins. Buffers Alley, however, made better use of their chances and deservedly led by 2-1 to 0-2 at halftime.
The Athenry girls enjoyed little luck in the second half and Buffers Alley aided by the wind had much more of the play and added a goal and a point to win the title. Athenry's best, according to the Irish Press, were Chris Silke, Noreen Treacy, Breda Coady, Una Jordan and Teresa Duane.
A capacity attendance of over 300 guest attended the Club's Annual Social in O'Deas Hotel, Loughrea to celebrate the climax of a very successful year for the Club's underage players.
The Chairman Tom Cloonan congratulated the sixty-four players present who between them had won six finals. Speaking on behalf of the County Juvenile Hurling Board Sean Glynn, the Secretary, said he enjoyed watching the Athenry boys playing, their speed and skill but particularly the way they enjoyed themselves, which is what the game is all about.
Speaking for the players and parents Martin T. Kelly NT said the whole Parish was united in their support for the Club and recalled the magnificent reception given to the Community Games team from Derrydonnell to Tiaquin. Frank Coyne made a special presentation to the team's trainers Tom Cloonan and Sean McGovern on the behalf of the parents. The Noel Keogh memorial trophy, presented annually to the Club's juvenile player-of-the-year went to Kevin Coyne Captain of the Community Games team.
The attendance, the largest ever at a Club function, celebrated a memorable year and victory by Athenry's young hurlers over the best in Ireland in September, 1982.