Athleague’s late rally earns another draw

AIB Connacht Club Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final  Ballina 0-13 Athleague 2-7  Incredible, amazing. Where will this season of draws end?  Athleague must be out on their feet by now, a county title in the back pocket, a Connacht campaign still alive, injuries taking their toll and a spate of draws draining their energies in this remarkable hurling year.    How spectacularly hurling has forced its way to the top of the sporting agenda in Roscommon this year! Always respected, immensely popular in ‘pockets’ of the county, the grand old game has been celebrated in some style this past year in Roscommon as David McConn and various players led Roscommon to one hurling success after another.    A healthy club championship meanwhile featured a number of draws, the continued rise of Roscommon Gaels and the flirtation with greatness that Athleague’s two-in-a-row represents.    Of course the much-heralded (and rightly) Mervyn Connaughton has been at the heart of much of the excitement but he was a notable absentee on Saturday as Athleague sought a Connacht final place when taking on Ballina on the latter’s home ground. Connaughton’s absence through injury was a major blow for the Roscommon kingpins and his free-scoring and always reassuring presence was duly missed.   Ivan Connaughton was the first name on the scoreboard for Athleague on Saturday last and his deposit was added to by Gary Fallon and Shane McGeeney and the trio of points saw Athleague edge ahead by the narrowest of margins mid way through the first half.   Further points from Fallon (2) and Joe Glennon were Athleague’s last of the first half, while the men from James Stephen’s continued to notch up points, bring a one-point advantage back to the dressing room at half time, with a scoreline of 0-7 to 0-6 in favour of the home side. One of the more contentious decisions of the match came in the closing minutes of the first half when a goal by Shane McGeeney was adjudged to be a square ball.   On the return Ballina dominated and Barry Walsh was the first to add to the scoring tally, with a point from play. Midway through the second period Athleague took their first goal, with a fine effort from Gary Fallon. Never vanquished, Ballina battled back with four points on the trot, from Walsh, Tighe, Barrett and Healy.   As injury-time beckoned, the home side looked set for victory, with a three-point lead and a scoreline of 0-12 to 1-6. Experience told in the end for Athleague as they never gave up. One minute into injury-time, Alan Cunniffe was up from his wing back position to find the net after a Gary Fallon free was blocked on the line. Seconds later Ballina were awarded a free and converted the chance into a point. Five minutes into injury-time, Cunniffe found himself in possession and made no mistake as he drove the ball over the bar. Thus, minus a number of key players, Athleague held on to a crucial tie and hurling fans are already looking forward to Saturday’s tie in Athleague at 1.30 pm.  Athleague: D. Connell, T. Mulligan, N. Connolly, JP Murray, L. Fannon, P. Glennon, A. Cunniffe (1-1), D. Delaney, J. Connolly, I. Connaughton (0-1), G. Fallon (1-3), D. Flaherty, S. McGeeney (0-1), T. Reddington, J. Glennon (0-1). Subs: T. Connaughton for I. Connaughton (47 mins).