Dowd goal ensures Athlone of victory in low key encounter
Athlone 1-8, Mullingar Shamrocks 0-9
At the end of an intriguing, if low quality, Senior Football Championship encounter at Kinnegad on Friday evening, Athlone emerged victorious over Mullingar Shamrocks in the battle of the two big towns.
The sides were level six times and it took a fortuitous goal from substitute Sean Dowd to claim the spoils at the death, but it was reward for Athlone’s persistent effort on a tricky evening for football. Dowd’s shot from the left wing was spilled by the opposing ‘keeper and ended up in the net for the winning score.
A wet, greasy ball presented its own additional demands and there was a lot of sloppy passing and plenty of ball spilled by both sides as they gave their all in pursuit of the crucial championship points on offer. On an evening where mistakes were the dominant feature, it was perhaps no coincidence that the game was ultimately decided by a handling error: sport can be cruel and goalkeeping is an unforgiving, lonely position as Eoin Doran discovered.
The Shannonsiders won despite getting just four scores from play and their patient approach eventually brought its reward, albeit after a huge slice of luck at the end.
It wasn’t a classic, but Athlone won’t be overly concerned. Victory moved them on to four points, level with Mullingar Shamrocks but with that crucial head to head advantage.
Defeat leaves Mullingar Shamrocks needing a win over Moate All Whites in their last game: if they succeed on that front and Athlone overcome Garrycastle, the Shannonsiders will have the edge after Friday’s win.
It wasn’t high-scoring and both teams placed a big emphasis on getting men behind the ball before attempting to break forward on the counter attack. At half-time Athlone shaded it, 0-5 to 0-4, after the teams were level on four separate occasions. Had Athlone been more clinical in the first half, they could well have been three or four points further clear as they did most of the pressing and had the better chances.
Shane Allen’s converted free off the ground gave Athlone the lead after a minute, a fine strike from over 35 metres. The Mullingar men equalised when Denis Corroon slotted over a free from the hands, following a foul on Lorcan Smyth. Corroon repeated that when Jordan Warde was impeded and with scores at a premium, his accuracy kept Mullingar Shamrocks in contention.
Cillian Lynn’s free from the hands after 11 minutes had the sides level, but stray passing was a dominant feature as both sides went in search of the lead. It was Shamrocks who regained it courtesy of a terrific point from Dean Moore with the outside of the right boot from almost 45 metres, following a Conn O’Hanlon lay-off.
While there was toil and attrition involved, it was a game sprinkled with that kind of quality and Eamon Martin repeated his opposite number’s effort in the subsequent attack.
Shamrocks then took the lead again at the end of the first quarter: Corroon’s delivery was claimed by Lorcan Smyth, who raised his arm for the mark and calmly converted the free kick. But Athlone hit back as Ray Connellan broke the line and found Benny Martin, who shot over ‘on the loop’.
Moore missed with an audacious effort (after Warde’s pass), his shot from distance coming down off the upright in the 20th minute. There was just one score in a 16-minute period of the opening half (including added time), that from a Shane Allen free in the third minute of added time.
Though less economical than manager Eoin Jordan would surely have liked, Athlone were in front at the break and that was crucial on an evening of such fine margins.
If Athlone had the better of the first half, Mullingar Shamrocks looked the more likely after the break.
Midfielder Paddy Fagan was a rejuvenated figure and his early point had the sides level with just 17 seconds on the clock. Athlone replied when the unmarked Eamon Martin got his second point in routine fashion.
Corroon set up O’Hanlon for a fine point as Mullingar Shamrocks levelled matters for the sixth time. A fine move led to Corroon, Warde and Smyth all combining for the Mullingar men before Warde shot over. They made a major statement when taking a two-point lead by the 50th minute as Warde set up Fagan on the burst and the latter notched his second point.
Athlone battled and Allen slotted over a free from the hands on 51 minutes, leaving just a point between the teams. However, in the final minute of normal time, Conor O’Brien (on his knees) laid off a lovely pass that led to Moore putting Fagan through for a nice point. At 0-9 to 0-7, they looked likely winners.
But Athlone refused to bow. Ben Killian went close and Donagh Prendergast almost fisted a goal only for O’Hanlon to get a vital touch in the frantic late exchanges. The resulting ‘45’ was superbly converted by Noel Mulligan, leaving just a point separating the teams with two minutes of added time played.
Play continued and Athlone crucially got their hands on the ball from the restart. It ended with Sean Dowd sending an angled ball into the danger area in a desperate attempt to find a colleague: as it happens, the ball squirmed under the crossbar, slipping through the ‘keeper’s grasp.
Athlone marginally deserved it on the basis of their first half exploits: having looked the better side in that second half, Mullingar Shamrocks lost out in the swings and roundabouts of a tight championship encounter. It’s now all to play for in round five of this fascinating group.
Scorers - Athlone: S Dowd 1-0, S Allen 0-3 (3f), E martin 0-2, C Lynn (f), B Martin and N Mulligan (‘45’) 0-1 each. Mullingar Shamrocks: P Fagan 0-3, D Corroon 0-2 (2f), C O’Hanlon, L Smyth (m), D Moore and J Warde 0-1 each.
Athlone: Shaun Fox; Noel Mulligan, James Finlass, Dylan Rushe; Shane Allen, Diarmuid Martin, Kieran Colclough; John Stapleton, Ray Connellan; Conor Rushe, Donagh Prendergast, Ben Killian; Cillian Lynn, Eamon Martin, Benny Martin. Subs: Cian Mitchell for Rushe (38), Matt Scally for Colclough (41), Sean Dowd for Lynn (50), Patrick Ryan for Scally (inj., 60).
Mullingar Shamrocks: Eoin Doran; Dillon Matthews, Efe Siode, David Coyne; Killian Daly, David Gavin, Conn O’Hanlon; Denis Corroon, Paddy Fagan; Alan Cashman, Conor O’Brien; Lorcan Smyth; Dean Moore, Jordan Warde, Brendan O’Reilly. Subs: Marc Eivers for B O’Reilly (43), John O’Reilly for Cashman (49).
Ref: Declan Nugent (Maryland).
In a nutshell
Man of the match
Shane Allen (Athlone): It was a big collective effort on Athlone’s part and wing back Shane Allen was as good as anyone on the evening. His three points from frees proved crucial in the end and it’s a very useful weapon for a team to have.
Paddy Fagan had a fine second half for the Mullingar men and Efe Siode was industrious as ever in defence.
Score of the match
Dean Moore’s point after 14 minutes was a wonderful effort - the full forward firing over with the outside of the right boot from almost 45 metres out. In general, the game was bereft of that kind of accuracy and skill.
It wasn’t an easy evening for players and the greasy conditions meant the referee had to constantly make judgement calls when the ball was taken into contact. He kept control of a potentially fiery match with eight yellow cards.
Entertainment levels: moderate
For the purists, not much to admire here, although there were some fine scores from the likes of Dean Moore, Eamon Martin, Shane Allen and Paddy Fagan at different times. Accuracy fell down too often.
However, defensive coaches would be happy with the number of turnovers and that’s where we’re at in the modern game: the starting Athlone forward line managed three scores from play; Mullingar Shamrocks had only two. A claustrophobic group in which just two teams progress has lent itself to attrition more than expansive football.
Mullingar Shamrocks face Moate All Whites, while Athlone meet neighbours Garrycastle, in the final round of the group series.