Athleague’s double

2007 Roscommon Senior Hurling Final replay Athleague 2-11 1-10 Padraig Pearses 2006 Senior Hurling champions Athleague confirmed their status as the best hurling side in Roscommon by recapturing the Michael Cunniffe Cup at the County Hurling Grounds on Sunday.   The present Athleague side can now claim to be the best club side in the county over the course of the decade and have set themselves up for a crack at becoming the finest Athleague team in the club’s history should they complete the three-in-a-row next year.   Goal-poacher supreme Shane McGeeney was the hero for the champions, ending up with a critical 2-1. The Athleague forwards have had their fair share of critics, but scores came from all over the full-forward line on Sunday, while Shane’s brother Declan lorded over proceedings from centre-forward in the first half, and in his own half-back line towards the end. Alan Cunniffe was at his athletic best at wing-back and cleared a lot of good ball, while Athleague’s fire-fighter David Delaney minded all of Pearses’ sharpshooters at different times, winning all of his duels.     For Pearses, it would be unfair to attach the ‘same-old-story’ tag. They battled away back into a game that had looked lost, displaying courage and bravery in spades. Cathal Kelly, David Loughnane and John Mulvey epitomised the spirit and resolve of the Pearses effort, which deserved more than cruel county final day defeat. With forwards like Kelly, Mulvey and the Sweeneys along with backs like the Loughnanes and John Mulvey, a ‘County’ can come with a bit of luck. The contributions of Cathal Kelly in particular, and Dara Mulvey when introduced as a substitute, can only give rise to questions as to why neither had started the drawn game. Interestingly, even the national Sunday Tribune had noted the omission of these players in its matchday prediction column.   The Play: The South Roscommon men came out of the blocks sharply with points from Anthony Sweeney and the pacy Cathal Kelly. A tidy Shane McGeeney point and a free from Mervyn Connaughton settled the champions before Shane Sweeney (free) and the hard-working Joe Glennon exchanged scores half-way through the first period. A pivotal period of the game on the 20-minute-mark began with David Connell’s stunning reaction save which pushed a blistering Shane Sweeney shot onto the post and ended with full-forward Tom Reddington converted a lovely score over his shoulder at the other end of the pitch in what proved to be a four-point swing towards the champions.   Scores from Alan and Shane Sweeney (free), and Mervyn Connaughton (free) had things level at 0-5 apiece towards the end of the first half. In three extra-time minutes, Athleague opened up and hit 1-2, from which Pearses never fully recovered. Firstly Shane McGeeney was in the right place to sweep a long ball from Mervyn Connaughton to the net. Tom Reddington hit his second score after fine work from Declan McGeeney before Mervyn converted a free to send Athleague in at half-time 1-7 to 0-6 to the good.   Athleague had quite a few chances to end it early in the second period; Joe Glennon and Shane McGeeney were unlucky with goal efforts while Reddington was in the clear before the ref called play back for a free which Mervyn Connaughton duly pointed. Indeed, Mervyn was perilously close with long-range sidelines from either side before Pearses had mounted a second half attack.   Eventually, after eight minutes, Cathal Kelly dragged his side back to life by racing clear of the cover to point cleverly from 40 yards. Connaughton, who along with his captain John Connolly had slowly begun to dominate from the middle of the park, hit a response from play before substitute Dara Mulvey pointed off his weak side for Pearses after 12 second half minutes.    A powerful clearance from Athleague centre-back Niall Connolly was finished to the net by the poacher McGeeney on 13 minutes and Pearses, facing a 2-9 to 0-8 deficit, looked to be in trouble. Indiscipline in the Athleague defence – along with manly determination from the South Roscommon side – pitched the game back onto the knife-edge again as young Cathal Kelly buried a 20-metre free to the net. Shane Sweeney followed up with a free to bring Pearses to within a goal with 13 minutes left.   Athleague needed an answer and didn’t have to look too far for inspiration. Mervyn Connaughton – at his brilliant best yet again – broke Pearses hearts with two huge frees from downtown. The second, from over 70 metres after his brother Ivan had been fouled, pushed the champions into a 2-11 to 1-9 lead again. Pearses’ wing man Cathal Kelly refused to yield and glided through for another sweet score, but had a second 20-metre free stopped on the line by Athleague’s very own rock at full-back, Colm Moran. Players who did well: Pearses had arguably the game’s best player in wing-forward Cathal Kelly, who scored at 1-3, all at crucial times. He has a touch and pace that marks him apart. David Loughnane battled like a trojan to break even against Tom Reddington, while Christy Sweeney (before his injury) and Alan Loughnane hurled with style.    For Athleague, Niall Connolly led a defence which was generally in the ascendancy, while David Delaney curbed three Pearses forwards at different times and came out on top. Declan McGeeney and Mervyn Connaughton hurled like men possessed throughout while Alan Cunniffe played with poise and style and was the stand-out player for many in the press box. Athleague: David Connell; David Delaney, Colm Moran, Pat Glennon; Tommy Mulligan, Niall Connolly, Alan Cunniffe; John Connolly (c), Mervyn Connaughton (0-7, 0-6, frees); Gary Fallon, Declan McGeeney, Ivan Connaughton; Joe Glennon (0-1), Tom Reddington (0-2), Shane McGeeney (2-1).  Subs: Joe Fallon/Mulligan (55m), D. Flaherty/J. Glennon (62m).  Yellow cards: Tommy Mulligan (24m), Declan McGeeney (46m).  Padraig Pearses: Padraig Dolan; David Dolan, David Loughnane, Sean Donoughue; Alan Loughnane, John Mulvey, Christy Sweeney; Robbie Donoghue, John Galvin; Anthony Sweeney (0-1), Michael Donoghue, Cathal Kelly (1-3, 1-0 free); Shane Sweeney (0-4, all frees), Alan Sweeney (0-1), Thomas Seale.  Subs: Pat Downey/Michael Donoghue (20m), Dara Mulvey (0-1)/Christy Sweeney (inj., 41m), Martin Mulvey/Galvin (60m).