Athleague 2-11 -
Athleague’s hopes of retaining the Mickey Cunniffe Cup remain intact after a four-point victory over Oran in the first part of a quarter-final double-header at Athleague on Saturday evening last.
By Noel Fallon
The incessant rain which fell all day militated against quality hurling. On such evenings, goals are priceless and strikes by Robbie Fallon and Cormac Kelly ultimately proved decisive.
Despite finishing with 13 men, Oran will have regrets. Two goal opportunities, which could have taken the match on a different trajectory, went abegging in the second half for the 2016 champions.
The game was slow to develop a rhythm, not helped by a paltry attendance due to the earlier deluge and the clash with the Dublin/Mayo All-Ireland semi-final.
The teams’ respective dead-ball specialists, Eamon Flanagan and Jerry Fallon, exchanged points inside the opening three minutes. Gearóid Keenan was unlucky to see a daisy-cutter hit the flag outside the post rather than the back of the net before Fallon nudged Oran ahead after seven minutes.
Robbie Fallon slotted over an equaliser from 35 metres and Flanagan followed up from a free. The pendulum swung back to Oran with points from Keenan and Fallon (free), leaving them ahead by one after 14 minutes. A 16th minute Flanagan free was the signal for Athleague to make a significant surge.
The vital score of the half arrived after 19 minutes. Pat Nolan picked out Ben McGahon whose long delivery was flicked to the net by Fallon. Cormac Kelly followed up quickly with a point from play and Flanagan stretched the advantage to five in the 23rd minute. Fallon converted a free for Oran’s first score in 14 minutes before Darragh Heavey rounded off the first-half scoring with a well-taken score from play.
One of the key moments of the match came in Oran’s first attack of the second half. Gearóid Keenan, who looked threatening whenever he got possession, won the sliothar and burst through the centre of the Athleague defence. Keenan could have gone for goal himself but offloaded to Eamon Kenny whose kicked effort flew over, rather than under, the bar.
A 34th minute free from Fallon pegged the gap back to three, but Oran wouldn’t get any closer. However, Athleague couldn’t pull away as they hit a series of wides, eventually racking up a total of 13. Flanagan converted a free, which was cancelled out by a point sent over on the turn by Hugh Rooney after he collected an Eoghan Grady pass.
After 43rd minutes, Oran lost Thomas Fetherston to a red card after a challenge on Aengus Lyons who wasn’t long on the field. It was a tricky call for referee Aaron Clogher, who had a good game, as Lyons was crouching as the taller Fetherston caught him with a shoulder.
Flanagan tagged on a free and Kelly seemed to have wrapped up the match in the 50th minute when he scored a fine individual goal. David Flaherty’s clearance reached Fallon who continued the move along the right flank to the wing-forward who collected the sliothar 35 metres from goal, cut inside, made a beeline for goal and drilled a shot to the net
Yet, Oran bounced back and, within three minutes, Keenan had whipped a powerful shot beyond David Connell. Oran’s chance looked to be gone when Kenny was sent-off for a second bookable offence with three minutes of normal time remaining. Yet they kept coming.
Kelly steadied Athleague with a point but in the 60th minute Oran carved open the home team’s defence only for David Ryan’s piledriver to whizz over the bar.
Four minutes into injury time. Fallon went for a goal from a 20-metre free but his powerful shot was saved and Rooney’s point proved to be a consolation score.
While Oran’s run is over, Athleague now meet Tremane in a local derby semi-final. The defending champions will need to improve if they are to reach a second successive final but they have the capacity to do so.
ATHLEAGUE: D. Connell; N. Connolly, D. Delaney, A. Donnelly; D. Flaherty, G. Fallon, P. Nolan; D. Heavey (0-1), B. McGahon; E. Flanagan (0-7, all frees), S. Kilcommins, C. Murray; C. Kelly (1-2), R. Fallon (1-1), P. Flaherty. Subs used: A. Lyons for Murray (39 mins), T. Connaughton for Heavey (53 mins).
ORAN: P. McInerney; M.T. McCormack, K. Crehan, R. Varley; D. McCormack, T. Fetherston, O. Keenan; H. Rooney (0-2), M. Dwyer; K. Whyte, E. Kenny (0-1), J. Fallon (0-5, all frees); G. Concannon, G. Keenan (1-1), E. Grady. Subs used: O. McGeeney for Concannon (48 mins), S. Keane for O. Keenan (52 mins), D. Ryan (0-1) for Varley (53 mins).
Wides: Athleague – 13; Oran – 6.
Yellow Cards: Athleague – Heavey (52 mins), R. Fallon (55 mins); Oran – Dwyer (40 mins), Whyte (55 mins).
Red Cards: Athleague – none; Oran – Fetherston (44 mins), Kenny (57 mins).
Referee: A. Clogher.
Player of the Match: Cormac Kelly (Athleague).
Cormac scored 1-2 from play on a day when scores were hard earned. He shades the verdict ahead of Paul Flaherty, while Niall Connolly, Aaron Donnelly, David Flaherty, Eamon Flanagan, Stephen Kilcommins and Robbie Fallon also impressed.
Best for Oran were Michael T. McCormack, Thomas Fetherston, Hugh Rooney, Michael Dwyer, Eamon Kenny, Jerry Fallon, Gearóid Keenan and Eoghan Grady.