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Athlone U16s claim Royal scalp in thriller

posted 5 Mar 2012, 07:54 by Athlone GAA   [ updated 5 Mar 2012, 11:48 by Unknown user ]

Athlone  4-11  St Colmcilles (Meath)  3-10

Athlone U-16 footballers put in a terrific team performance to emerge with four points to spare in the opening round of the Leinster league against Meath side St Colmcilles. Operating in Division 1 Athlone will be up against the best clubs in Leinster. Their group includes St Colmcilles (Meath), Stradbally (Laois) and Shamrocks (Offaly). With only one team to emerge from each group it was vital to get off to a winning start.

The long bus journey to Bettystown last Friday evening didn’t seem to hamper the Athlone lads who were far sharper than the home side in the opening quarter. Aidan Byrne got the visitors off the mark after two minutes with a well struck free. Despite their dominance the Athlone lads were guilty of squandering a few well-worked scoring-opportunities.

Aidan Byrne was in sparkling form hitting  the net twice before the break while Charlie McMickan kept the scoreboard ticking with a few well taken frees. In true Meath fashion Colmcilles came roaring back into contention and when the Athlone defence failed to clear their lines the Bettystown side grabbed their first goal.

Athlone entered the break with a 2-5 to 1-5 lead. The stiff cross-field breeze was to nobody’s advantage but it was clear Athlone were in for a right battle in the second half.

Colmcilles, home club to former greats Bernard Flynn and Robbie O Malley, were physically very strong in the central positions and grabbed a firm foothold around midfield in the third quarter. They quickly cancelled the deficit with a second goal and edged ahead with some well taken points.

Athlone needed to dig deep and a sparkling move the length of the field was expertly dispatched to the net by Ryan Gaffey to give Athlone the lift they needed. Almost immediately the home side hit back with their third major.

With the game very much up for grabs another great Athlone move ended with Byrne completing his hat-trick and edging the visitors back in front. Points from Mattie Darling, Gaffey and McMickan extended the lead to four points.

The Meath men pressed hard for the goal they needed in the dying minutes but the Athlone rearguard put their bodies on the line as they snuffed out attack after attack in the ten minutes of injury time played.

The four point winning margin was just rewards for a great team effort by the eighteen players used. Conor Devanney was solid between the sticks and got great cover from the full back line of Shane Galvin, Kevin Martin and Fionn Dowd. Galvin was tigerish throughout while Martin grew into the game and excelled in the second half. Dowd covered a mountain of ground before injury forced his replacement in the second half.

Michael Cunniffe was solid in the pivotal centre back position and got great help from his wing-men Fabian Cooke and Eric Loughnane.

The midfield pairing of Mattie Darling and Sam Omokuro had their hands full against strong opposition but dug deep and played a big part in digging out a win.

Charlie McMickan led the attack from centre-forward and weighed in with 0-5 points to his name. Richie Greene kicked a great point and along with Chris Reid proved a great link man.

Aidan Byrne finished with a tally of 3-3 to his name while Ryan Gaffey hit 1-1. Alex Molloy proved an effective target in the full-forward berth.

Daniel Reid, Ciaran Rigney and Tadhg Prendergast all contributed well when they joined the fray.

Colmcilles are favourites to lift the Meath title this year so beating them in their own back yard was a significant scalp. There were plenty of positives for Athlone to take home from this game.  4-11 is a great return and when the ball was moved quickly the Athlone forward-line were impossible to contain. The attitude and commitment of the players was also first class and when the questions were asked they stood up and were counted. On the flip side the concession of three goals is something that will have to be worked on.

Athlone welcome Stradbally to Pairc Ciaran this Friday evening for a crunch tie. The Laois side enjoyed a six points victory over Shamrocks last week and will be a huge test for the Athlone lads. If Athlone can take the spoils they are in with a great chance of topping the group but they will have to bring their ‘A’ game to Pairc Ciaran on Friday evening.

Team and scorers- C Devaney, S Galvin, K Martin, F Dowd, F Cooke, M Cunniffe, E Loughnane, M Darling (0-1), Sam Omokuro, C Reid, C McMickan (0-5), R Greene (0-1), R Gaffey(1-1) , A Molloy, A Byrne (3-3).