Tired Athleague lost junior final

Connacht Junior Club Hurling Final Sylane        0-12 Athleague   1-5 A depleted Athleague side suffered the pain of Connacht hurling championship defeat for the second time in the space of a week, when they were beaten by Galway side Sylane in the provincial junior decider in Athleague last Saturday. After bowing out of the Connacht senior championship the week before to Ballina, Athleague faced into their eighth game in seven weeks without no less of 11 of their county championship winning panel for this junior clash.   Among those marked absent were Declan McGeeney (injured) and Alan Cunniffe (in South America), two of the Roscommon champions’ stalwarts in recent weeks.   Indeed, so desperate was Athleague’s plight that they had to spring regular full-back Colm Moran and inspirational midfielder Mervyn Connaughton from the casualty ward, introducing them into the fray during the contest.   Moran had not togged out since the county final due to a serious ankle injury while Connaughton played with a broken finger. Indeed, it amazes one the lengths that players will go to serve their clubs, something that is obviously lost on the Connacht Council who have no regard for the hurling fraternity in the weaker counties.   The proof is there. Forcing Athleague to line out in the Connacht Championship 24 hours after winning back-to-back county titles recently and then asking them to play their fourth Connacht championship game in three weeks more than supports the above argument.   As it was, a weary Athleague did field, but by half-time they found themselves trailing their Galway junior opponents by 0-9 to 0-2.    Athleague’s Gary Fallon converted a free for the home side on two minutes, but by the time the Roscommon champions scored again, Sylane – playing with the wind – had hit nine unanswered points. Thomas Costello (2), John Paul Steede (2), Paul Burke and midfielder and captain Sean Glynn, with a magnificent score, got the ball rolling with some great points in the opening quarter and by the 15 th minute the Kilconly/Corofin/Caherlistrane side led 0-6 0-1.   Sylane continued to dominate the first half and with TJ Kelly ruling the roost at centre-half forward, they pressed for further scores – Costello (free), Kelly himself, and midfielder Liam Brady completing the visitors’ first half total.    The sole response during the second quarter from Athleague was a Fallon free a minute into injury-time. However, in the opening minutes of the second half, Sylane’s seven-point lead was quickly whittled down to four.    A superb solo run by Gary Fallon dissected the Galway men’s defence before the classy midfielder rifled the ball to the Sylane net on 35 minutes. While Costello did offer a retort when converting a free on 42 minutes, Athleague continued to push for scores. Fallon added a free on 44 minutes; then  substitute Connaughton hit a glorious point from play on 51 minutes before Fallon struck over a ’65 on 57 minutes to narrow the margin to just two.   Athleague needed to secure the lead entering those final minutes because it would be then that the fitness factor would come into play. And it did. Athleague legs became heavy while Sylane’s freshness jumped to the fore and in the first minute of injury-time Costello converted a free to leave three between the sides.   There were a few anxious moments for Sylane, thereafter, but the Galway junior side were not to be denied and in the seventh minute of injury-time it was somewhat fitting that man of the match TJ Kelly struck over the insurance point to guarantee a famous victory for Sylane.   Given that none of the Athleague starting forwards scored this says much of the tenacity of the Sylane defence, marshalled by full-back Donal Keane and centre-back Steede. Up front, Kelly ran the show, scoring two points, with Burke and Costello (5) the other contributors.   For Athleague, best on the day were full backs Tommie Mulligan, Niall Connolly and Pat Glennon and midfielder Gary Fallon, while substitutes Connaughton and Moran, although both carrying injuries, also made an impression when introduced. Athleague: D. Connell; T. Mulligan, N. Connolly, P. Glennon; J. Connolly, L. Fannon, JP Murray; G. Fallon (1-4, 0-3 frees, 0-1 65), D. Delaney; D. Flaherty, T. Reddington, J. Glennon; ET Murray, S. McGeeney, T. Connaughton. Subs: C. Kelly for Flaherty (17 mins.); M. Connaughton (0-1) for T. Connaughton (27 mins.); C. Moran for ET Murray (H/T); S. Moore for D. Delaney, inj. (65 mins.). Sylane: B. Mitchell; R. Higgins, D. Keane, S. Monaghan; K. McGrath, J.P. Steede (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 65), M. Leonard; L. Brady (0-1), S. Glynn (0-1); J. Canney, TJ Kelly (0-2), Paul Burke (0-1); C. Ludden, O. Mullen, T. Costello (0-5, 0-4 frees). Subs: J. Ruane for O. Mullen (43 mins.); S. Brady for (57 mins.). Referee: J. Conway (Mayo).