Galway 'Hurler of the Year' and
With a new sense of dedication and spirit the Club's senior hurling team qualified for the County Hurling Championship Final for the first time. During the year they played a total of 33 games-13 league and championship and, 20 challenge games-some as far away as Birr in Offaly and Moneygall in Tipperary. The amount of time and effort put in by the players and mentors Seamus Cullinane, Sean McGovern and Fr. Flannery was reflected in the team's performance in both the County League and Championship.
In their opening game of the County Senior League Athenry defeated Killimordaly by 4-10 to 2-8 then Ardrahan by 2-10 to 1-6 and Castlegar 310 to 3-4. Short a number of regulars they went down to Kiltormer 5-8 to 0-7 at Kiltormer in the remaining game. Having been defeated in the first round of the two previous years championships no chances were taken against Mullagh in the opening game at the new look St. Brendan's Park, Loughrea. Still, Athenry had to call on all their craft and experience to overcome a very determined Mullagh side inspired by the Clarke brothers Joe and lggy and Gerry Coone. At the end Athenry had four points to spare 2-1 0 to 1-9 and could thank a superb defensive display in the closing stages for retaining their lead. There was a sigh of relief among all associated with the team when the final whistle sounded.
Athenry's next opponents in the quarterfinal were near neighbours Killimordaly who were narrowly defeated by Kiltormer in the previous year's final. The contest was eagerly awaited and the keen rivalry that has always existed between the two parishes reached an all-time high. Killimordaly were dead keen to make amends for the previous year's failure and Athenry were on the crest of a wave.
A large attendance turned up at Duggan Park, Ballinasloe expecting a thriller. They were not disappointed and the game was full of excitement, incidents and scores.
There were moments during a tough first half when the ball appeared to be of minor importance. Killimordaly made the early running aided by a fresh breeze and playing into the town goal. Goals by Stephen and P. J. Coen put their side five points ahead as halftime approached. After an incident in which an Athenry player went down injured the game looked like getting out of control. Even an announcement on the public address for calm on and off the field was useless, as play became fast and furious. The referee defused the situation by blowing for the interval with Killimordaly leading 2-3 to 0-4.
Ten minutes into the second half Athenry had cut the lead to two points. Encouraged by the supporters they continued to put the pressure on their opponents who were showing signs of cracking. But another Stephen Coen goal and a point by Mixie Donoghue kept them well ahead. P. J. Molloy and Sean Hynes pulled the lead back to three points before Stephen Cloonan levelled the scores for the first time with a goal. P. J. Molloy sent a penalty to the net and with the Athenry defence well in control Stephen Cloonan got another chance and made no mistake. It was now all Athenry and when Michael Poniard who came on as a substitute pointed after one of the best moves of the game, the result was no longer in doubt. On the stroke of time Michael Donnellan had the simplest of tasks in scoring another Athenry goal, the final score.
"Athenrys well earned victory was a team effort and showed dedication, skill, application to the job in hand laced with a good measure of fortitude and patience" reported the Connacht Tribune. "The halfback line of Luke Glynn, Tom Cloonan and Michael Treacy was a very effective unit always available when duty called. Gerry Dempsey and Sean Hynes though up against a highly rated pair at midfield, got their share of play. Stephen Cloonan and P. J. Molloy were the high scorers in attack but their other forwards made their contribution too, notably Gerry Holian and Michael Donnellan".
Team: Mark Donnellan, Noel Kelly, Finbarr Kerrigan, Gerry Kavanagh, Luke Glynn, Tom Cloonan, M ichael Treacy, Gerry Dempsey, Sean Hynes, Gerry Holian, Stephen Cloonan, P. J. Molloy, Basil Holian, Ray Glynn, Michael. Donnellan. Sub. Michael Poniard.
Athenry were proving to be the surprise packet of the senior hurling championship and turned on the style to record an impressive nine point win over Ballindereen in the semi-final at Loughrea.
It was P. J. Molloy who put Athenry on the road to victory with a brilliant first half display against the breeze to give his side a five point interval lead. The County star was forced to retire with a broken finger after the break, which was a severe blow to Athenry's prospects. But his colleagues rose to the occasion in great style and would have won by a far bigger margin except for a late goal by Ballindereen's P. J. Bermingham.
The Tuam Herald reported "Athenry were the better balanced side all through, their young midfield pair Gerry Dempsey and Sean Hynes turning in some deliglightful hurling, well supported by a flying half back line of Luke Glynn, Tom Cloonan and Basil Holian. Even after Molloy's departure Gerry Holian, Stephen Cloonan and Michael Poniard combined neatly and the Donnellans and Ray Glynn wasted few chances".
Athenry's gallant bid to win their first senior hurling championship final at the first attempt failed narrowly, before a record attendance of 8,000 at Duggan Park, Ballinasloe, with Kiltormer winning by 3-10 to 3-8.
"Athenry should have been out of the hunt early on" wrote The Connacht Tribune sports editor Michael Glynn "But pure determination allied to a yearning desire to win the County title for the first time ensured a large measure of excitement right up to the final ivhistle. Kiltormer deserved to win okay, if only for their all round efficiency, which at times threatened to take outsiders Athenry apart yet at the end was barely enough to overcome the challenge that was never let up.
The game should be remembered for Athenry's magnificent display, but such is not the case. An incident twelve minutes into the game resulted the sending off of centre back Tom Cloonan and Kiltormer's veteran Michael Hoare by referee P. Robinson. The game ended in controversy when the crowd invaded the pitch after the referee had blown for a free and play came to a premature end".
The final was played in ideal conditions and the large shirt sleeved crowd added to the occasion as Gerry Holian led his team onto the field to a tremendous cheer. Athenry were deserving final contenders for the blue ribbon of Galway hurling that had eluded Parish teams since Derrydonnell's victory sixty years earlier.
The first half of the game was disappointing with both sides missing good early chances before P. J. Molloy opened the scoring with a point from a free. The dual dismissal disrupted the game as both sides tried to cope with the situation. "As it transpired" wrote Michael Glynn "Athenry's loss was much the greater as the steadying influence of Cloonan was badly missed in defence". The 'Athenry' view of the incident was that the Kiltormer players involved were the aggressors and the referee's harsh action had far more serious implications for Athenry. The players were sent off according to Jarlath P. Burke of the Tuam Herald for "a minor offence while a far more serious discretion by Kiltormer's Andy Fenton at the same time was overlooked".
It was the view of most observers and Athenry Club at the time that a South or West Galway referee should have been appointed to referee the final as the Divisional Boards had only been abolished three years earlier.
Sean Kelly crashed in a goal for Kiltormer before Sean Hynes and Gerry Dempsey replied with two good points. P. J. Molloy's attempt at a goal was blocked at the expensive of a seventy, which was converted by Dempsey. Furey and Glynn had two more points for Kiltormer who led 1-3 to 0-4 at halftime.
Senior Hurling Team Manager Seamus Cullinane led his side to their first ever County Final appearance.
The second half was barely three minutes old when Frank Larkin made a great save from Stephen Cloonan but the ball broke loose to Michael Donnellan who tapped it into the net. A roving Cloonan then set up P. J. Molloy for two points in the 6th and 7th minute to give the challengers a three-point lead. Fenton appeared to go over the sideline with the ball, but his clearance reached Frehill who scrambled the ball at the net. Kiltormer continued to pile on the pressure and with ten minutes remaining led by four points. A goal by Sean Hynes who collected a pass from P. J. Molloy put Athenry back in the game. The referee gave Kiltormer two close frees which Tony Furry converted and a further point by Sonny Glenn looked like the insurance point with three minutes left. But Athenry were riot finished-Gerry Holian collected the puck out and with lightening speed split the Kiltormer defence and sent a rasper past Larkin for a brilliant goal. John Goode and Mick Donnellan exchanged points, Donnellans just going over the bar before Furey pointed from a difficult angle, the last score of the game.
The referee blew for a free with just over a minute left, Kiltormer supporters ran onto the pitch thinking the game was over and instead of insisting on playing the remaining time left and clearing the field Robinson blew for full time. He later told the Tuam Herald reporter that time had elapsed. The Connacht Tribune stated "Sundays County Hurling Final came to a premature end after only 59 minutes ... The referee gestured that there was still time left to play and it was announced over the public address that the game was not yet over... Athenry have full entitlement to complain as only a single score stood between them and their first senior hurling title with those vital seconds still to be played."
Athenry's frustration with the refereeing of the game and the failure to play a full thirty minutes in the second half when one score could have won the game was a bitter and sad experience for all concerned.
Team: Mark Donnellan, Tony Kelly, Finbarr Kerrigan, Willie Cummins, Luke Glynn, Tom Cloonan, Basil Holian, Sean Hynes, Gerry Dempsey, Gerry Holian Ray Glynn, P. J. Molloy, Michael Poniard, Stephen Cloonan, Michael Donnellan, Subs: Michael Treacy, John Donnellan, Noel Kelly.
Cork proved far too strong for Galway in the All-Ireland Under 21 semi-final at Ballinasloe winning easily. Gerry Dempsey and Mattie Gannon were on the Galway team and Basil Holian was also a member of the panel. Gannon was Galway's outstanding player and could not be faulted for the shot that beat him. According to The Connacht Tribune "Goalkeeper Mattie Gannon won nothing but praise for a fine courageous and consistent display."
One of the Counties's leading sportsmen P. J. Molloy gave a memorable display in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final against Cork. Though Galway were defeated Molloy's display earned him a place among the greats of the game. The Cork Examiner wrote "Molloy proceeded to turn in a scintillating performance and some of the points he scored were straight from the experts advisory code. His brilliance was in keeping with the rays of sun that shone on the hallowed turf "
P.J. won the admiration of all that saw the game including opponents who acknowledged his brilliance. In after the game comments. Jimmy Barry Murphy, when asked for a comment in the Cork dressingroom on the game, replied "Wasn't P. J. Molloy wonderful." The Athenryman received an All-Star award and the Gallagher Cup, which is presented annually by the Galway Board to their outstanding G.A.A. personality of the year.
Galway Hurling Sports Star award winner
There was never any doubt who would receive the 1977 Galway Sports Star award for hurling. Molloy had clinched his spot too on the Sports Stars rostrum with his outstanding display and his contribution to his club team's great performance in the County Senior Championship.
The Camogie award went to Athenry player Ann Morris who was captain of the Galway minor team, which won the All-Ireland, and a member of the Presentation College Junior team, which also won All-Ireland honours.
The junior football team reached the Division 3 Football League Final, which was played at Duggan Park against Meelick/Eyrecourt. It was a tough affair with the East Galway side emerging winners by two points 2-5 to 1-6.
Meelick/Eyrecourt showed up well in a lively opening half and had the ball in the Tone's net in the first minute. Despite Athenry's best efforts they could not level the scores and at the interval Meelick/Eyrecourt led 1-4 to 0-3.
A penalty early in the second half increased that lead but the Tones struck back with points by P. J. Molloy and Tommy Fahy and a goal and a point by a corner forward to leave a one point difference. The winners then increased their lead to two points, which they held until the end.
Athenry All-Ireland Senior Camogie Club Champions
Front Row: (left to right) Anne Duane, Noreen Treacy, Mary Daly, Madge Hobbins, Teresa Duane, Anne Morris. Back Row: (left to right) Anne Delaney, Marian Freaney, Midge Poniard, Breda Coady, Greta O'Brien, Olive Coady.
Athenry held out to win their third county camogie title against a strong Ballindereen side at Castlegar by 2-10 to 4-1. Ballindereen went seven points ahead after ten minutes but this did not deter Athenry who fought back to lead by one point at the interval the score 1-5 to 2-1.
A few short puck outs by Ballindereen gave Athenry the opportunity to stretch their lead and they led by six points with only five minutes remaining when T Kelly gave Breda Coady no chance in the Athenry goal from five yards. That goal left only three points between the sides and Ballindereen pressed hard for the equaliser but Athenry held on and were worthy winners at the end.
Athenry had a runaway win over Four Roads in Connacht Final with full forward Teresa Duane scoring an amazing 6-3.
Team: Breda Coady, Noreen Treacy, Gretta O'Brien, Anne Duane, Anne Poniard, Midge Poniard, Olive Coady, Anne Delaney, Anne Morris, Mary Daly, Marian Freaney, Teresa Duane.
Munster Champions Ballagran (County Limerick) came to Athenry for the All-Ireland Club semi-final with high hopes of winning a place in the final. After a game of non-stop action these long cherished hopes wilted to ashes as Athenry weaved a glorious victory.
A nerve-racking encounter rocketed this fifty-minute display into the category of a classic and the turning point came shortly after the start of the second half. Two swiftly taken goals in the first three minutes gave Athenry a commanding lead. Marian Freaney rounded off a great movement involving Teresa Duane and Mary Daly for Athenry's first goal, which was followed two minutes later by another goal from Mary Daly. The Limerick side piled on the pressure but the Connacht Champions stayed ahead and won by a goal in a thrilling finish.
The Connacht Tribune reported "Breda Coady in goals made some fine clearances ably supported by Noreen Treacy and Ann Duane. Madge Hobbins was oft-times responsible for fruitful Athenry counter-attacking movements but the polish was really added with dazzling displays from Marian Freaney, Ann Morris and Teresa Duane."
Athenry were in their third consecutive All-Ireland Club Final and this time the crown was theirs. Played before a huge hom Athenry side sank home goal after goal with repetitious delight to take a long overdue and well deserved All-Ireland Club title.
Athenry County Senior Hurling Finalists 1977
Front Row: (left to right) Finbarr Kerrigan, Michael Poniard, P. J. Molloy, Luke Glynn, Gerry Holian (Captain), Sean Hynes, Michael Donnellan, Back Row: (left to right) Gerry Dempsey, Willie Cummins, Ray Glynn, Stephen Cloonan, Mark Donnellan, Tom Cloonan, Tony Kelly and Basil Holian.
Athenry's P. J. Molloy and Michael Donnellan look on as Stephen Cloonan takes on the Kiltormer defence.
Athenry's Gerry Holian, closely followed by Conor Hayes, solos through to score a superb goal in the County Final.
Athenry Sports Star Award Winners 1977