Clinical Athleague’s advance

Senior Hurling Championship semi-final Athleague 1-13 Oran 0-5 The hurlers of Athleague advanced to the final of the County Senior Hurling Championship with a facile victory over their rivals Oran at the County Hurling Grounds last Sunday evening. Clinical point-taking and comprehensive defending yielded victory for the reigning county champions. Athleague now march on to the championship final with great confidence, but in truth David Kelly’s team learned little from this fixture. Three points from the returning Ivan Connaughton, a hat-trick of points from Tomas Reddington, a score from Joe Fallon, an effortless stroke from the hurl of the talented Gary Fallon, and five points from midfield talisman Mervyn Connaughton utterly overawed Oran, whose strength as a hurling force has dwindled considerably since last season. Goal-scoring has always been the hallmark of this generation of Oran hurlers, and the club’s record in this respect has helped secured success in county and provincial competitions. Their failure to score even one goal was fatal for them last Sunday and is testament to the resilience and superiority of the Athleague defence. David Delaney, Colm Moran, and Pat Glennon all performed excellently in a defence that was marshalled superbly by the confident Niall Connolly at centre half-back. Connolly performed excellently over the course of the hour of hurling and is re-emerging this year as one of the better hurlers in the county. Remarkably, a scoring total of just five points reflects accurately on the performance of Oran in this semi-final. They did not score between the 20 th and 58 th minutes of the game and indeed it took points from Gerry Fallon and Michael Dwyer in the final moments to enhance the appearance of the scoreboard from their perspective.  Oran’s hurling community will be disappointed this week. The club unquestionably went into this game as the underdog, but Oran’s hurlers have delighted in confounding punditry throughout this decade. Athleague and Oran have entertained hurling patrons with several tremendously exciting matches in the last five years and surely the Rockfield club did not intend to lose by a margin such as this one. The departure from play of Adrian Kelly in the 39 th minute of the match was noticed by everybody at the hurling grounds in Athleague. Together with his brother Colm, Micky Cunniffe RIP, and Mervyn Connaughton, Adrian has been a predominant figure in this era of Roscommon hurling and this might well have been his last appearance in a county championship. Kelly is 39-years-old this year and it is  not certain that he will play again next year. Match reporters who work for newspapers in County Roscommon are embarrassed of constantly conferring ‘player of the match’ awards on Mervyn Connaughton of Athleague. The stalwart midfielder was at his magnificent best again on Sunday, however, and I feel bound to enthuse once again about his hurling prowess.  The Roscommon captain played splendidly at midfield for Athleague in this semi-final. Mervyn acted, as he always does, as the perfect link between his defence and his attack and he was involved in most of Athleague’s scores. Connaughton constantly popped up on both wings and, as well as dominating the centrefield area, he chipped in with five impressive points. His brother Ivan contributed impressively too; the Roscommon-based auctioneer scored three good points from play before withdrawing for the last quarter. John Shally was probably Oran’s best performer. Shally operated from the half-forward line and he tried desperately and consistently to take the match to Athleague. His efforts were not rewarded materially, however, as Connolly and a deep-sitting Athleague midfield crowded his area of the pitch. The first quarter was the most exciting part of the game, and Keith McDermott and Carty traded points with Mervyn Connaughton and the exceptional Reddington. Two points from Ivan Connaughton opened up a margin for the first time and from then on the champions held the impetus.    Adrian Kelly scored a third point for Oran on 19 minutes but three points from Mervyn Connaughton and two from Reddington gave Athleague a six-point half-time lead. Ivan Connaughton’s point at the beginning of the second half was a continuance of what amounted to an onslaught, which continued until Oran’s efforts dwindled in the final 10 minutes. Two beautiful points from Joe Fallon and Gary Fallon were the best scores of the second half, and a goal from Shane McGeeney sealed the win for the victors with five minutes to go. Players who did well: Mervyn and Ivan Connaughton, John Shally, Niall Connolly, David Delaney, and Enda Morris were the best performers in this match. Man of the match: Tomas Reddington played superbly and was the nucleus of an Athleague attack that overpowered Oran’s half-back line. Athleague: David Connell; Pat Glennon, Colm Moran, Tommy Mulligan; Alan Cunniffe, Niall Connolly, Joe Glennon; David Delaney, Mervyn Connaughton; Ivan Connaughton, Tom Reddington, Gary Fallon; Frank Farrell, Declan McGeeney,.Shane McGeeney. Subs used: Joe Fallon for Farrell (inj, 14 mins); David Flaherty for I. Connaughton (47 mins); Cormac Kelly for Gary Fallon (58 mins). Oran: Emmet Featherston; Padraig Crehan, Enda Morris, John Crehan; David Varley, Colm Mahon, Mark Dwyer; Gerry Fallon, Declan Beirne; John Shally, Keith McDermott, Francie Quine; Kevin Carty, Adrian Kelly, Brian Flynn. Mike Dwyer for Adrian Kelly (39 mins); Joey Carty for Colm Mahon (49 mins). Referee: Michael Mannion.