This was a must win match for Athlone who were in the relegation zone on the division 1 table and a win for the travelling team would have resulted in Shandonagh going back down to division 2 having been promoted less than 12 months ago... no pressure on either team.... NOT!
A beautiful sunny morning with the Shandonagh pitch looking glorious with the work our pitch committee are doing had us all looking forward to this match. Rain showers just before kick off however ensured a slippy start to the game and we were hoping they were not a bad omen.
Athlone started the match much stronger than Shandonagh and it could be said we were all a bit shell shocked by the Athlone movement, pace of some of their forwards and their running lines. It took until the 16th minute and Athlone to be up by 1:03 for Shandonagh to get on the score sheet when Kevin Boyle scored from play. Brian Kavanagh scored a free next for Shandonagh when Mickey Boyle was fowled. Philip Smith then scored one of the best points of the game when he caught an Athlone kick out, powered up the field and drove the ball over the bar. Cormac Coyne then turned it on when he caught a ball on the right hand side of the goal, turned around his helpless marker and blasted the ball into the top left corner of the goals.
We are 20 minutes in and Shandonagh backs are starting to get a grip with the Athone running formations and finally Shandonagh are in the game. Whats noticeable also is the encouragement emanating from the side line as we were all panicking a bit too much. Giving Athlone credit we were all taken by surprise at their blistering start. The Shandonagh sideline could also take note that rarely if ever has a referee changed his mind over his decisions and we were losing focus of where we should be directing our vocals.
On the 28th minute Kevin Boyle showed for the inside ball, was fowled and Brian Kavanagh converted the resulting free. Shandonagh are building from the back with quality ball going into the forwards at this stage. Mickey Boyle came agonisingly close to snatching another goal when a Cormac Coyne hand pass over the top took on a little bit too much pace and rolled out over the end line. Brian Kavanagh pointed another free after Jenson Nagle was fowled when making a foray in towards the Athlone goal. Shandonagh were working much harder now epitomised by Cormac Coyne running all the way back to block a kick on his own 21 meter line. The last score of the first half as a fantastic point from play by Ciaran Shanley who curled the ball over the bar from a very narrow angle left of goals.
Half time score was Shandonagh 1-07, Athlone 1-03
Athlone started the second half as they started the first by scoring a goal and point in the first few minutes. The goal was particularly deflating as it came right after Shandonagh possibly should have netted themselves up the far end of the pitch. Shortly afterwards Athlone were unlucky when another of their attacks just went wide of the Shandonagh goals. Conor McCrossan was first on the second half score sheet for Shandonagh by pointing from play.
Then disaster struck as Athlone scored another goal which came off a high ball in towards the box that deceived the Shandonagh goalie and an Athlone hand just managed to get a flick onto the ball into the net. This was the type of goal that can turn a match but in fairness to Shandonagh they just knuckled down and got on with the task at hand.
Next score came after Alan Hickey glided up the middle of the field passing onto Alan Hughes who pointed from play. The Shandonagh forwards then pounced on an opportunity to dispossess the Athone keepers just outside the 21 meter line with Mickey Boyle getting possession and bearing down on goals. Athlone had no option but to bring him down and Brian Kavanagh pointed the free.
Fifteen minutes into the second half and we had a very intense game with the pressure very tangible on the field and also felt by the supporters. Shandonagh were not gelling together yet while Athlone were tacking on scores
Brian Kavanagh scored another point from a free after Cormac Coyne was fowled just outside the box after he reacted fastest to a rebounding ball off the post. Jeremiah Scully came onto the pitch after 23 minutes and his first contribution was a very well taken point from play off his left foot. A few minutes later David Duffy caught a Shandonagh kick out and his inside ball was sent straight to Kevin Boyle who drove the ball over the bar for a great point.
With five minutes left Shandonagh were down by 3 points and we were being treated to end-to-end football. Next Shandonagh score same after Mickey Boyle worked hard to bring the ball in from the right hand sideline and passed to Cormac Coyne who put it over the bar.
Conor McCrossan then made another great run up the field offloading to Ciaran Shanley who pointed. Brian Kavanagh was then handed a difficult free 27 meters out but only 7 or 8 meters in from right sideline. The ball went left but Ciaran Shanley managed to keep it in and Shandonagh were rewarded with a free when Athlone put boot in while a Shandonagh man bravely went down to pick up ball the ball. Brian Kavanagh scored this resulting 13 meter free.
David Scahill then came on for a tired Mickey Boyle who had worked his socks off today. We were treated to a hell of a finish to the game as Athlone went back down the pitch and scored to lead by a single point with only a minute left on the clock. Shandonagh rallied working the ball up the field and Conor McCrossan showed great composure to kick the point from play from right of goals outside the 21.
Their is possibly a few reasons why a defibrillator is located in the Shandonagh GAA grounds and matches like this could be one of them. The roar of relief that went up from the home supporters when the final whistle sounded was immense. The draw was enough to see Shandonagh safe in division 1 for 2020. Fair play to the Shandonagh senior team on this performance as it was not easy at all.
Full time score was Shandonagh 1-17, Athlone 4-08
Conor Craig, Cathal Craig, Kevin Duffy, Jenson Nagle, Christy Coyne, Philip Smith, Conor McCrossan, David Duffy, Alan Hickey, Alan Hughes, Kevin Boyle, Damien Moran, Mickey Boyle, Cormac Coyne, Brian Kavanagh
Subs: Ciaran Shanley for Christy Coyne, Jeremiah Scully for Alan Hughes, David Scahill for Mickey Boyle