Athy hold their nerve to bridge gap of 24 years
ATHY are back on the summit of Kildare football for the first time in 24 years after a good start and a strong finish enabled them to resist Carbury's gritty challenge in yesterday's county final in Newbridge.
Athy scored 2-5 in the opening 15 minutes and two points in the closing four minutes but managed just four points in between, a period during which Carbury accumulated 2-4. Indeed, when Daryl O'Brien rasped home Carbury's second goal in the 57th minute to cut the deficit to two points, it looked as if they might have timed their run to perfection.
The next score was crucial and it went Athy's way as Cian Reynolds held his nerve and calmly pointed a free.
"It was a crucial score because Carbury were going very well at that stage," said Athy manager Mark Brophy. Reynolds added another point in stoppage time, sending the red-clad hordes in the 6,000 crowd into ecstasy as they began the celebrations after a job well done by a well-balanced squad.
"This is a great day for the club and the town of Athy. It's a culmination of huge dedication by a lot of people at underage level and it's come to fruition today," said Brophy.
It's was Athy's seventh win of the championship campaign -- their second against Carbury -- and had its origins in the blistering start which left Carbury with a wide range of problems for which they couldn't possibly have legislated.
Athy -- successful in the last three county minor finals -- made the first important breakthrough in the opening minute when full-forward James Eaton reacted quickest in the Carbury square, flicking the ball to the net.
The south Kildare side's second goal, scored by Darroch Mulhall in the 15th minute, also owed much to defensive frailties and left Carbury facing a massive test of their resilience. They delivered on that front but ultimately had given themselves too much to do in their pursuit of a first county title since 1985.
"The two goals we leaked in the early stages really told against us -- that's where it was lost," said Carbury manager Stephen Darby.
Trailing by 2-5 to 0-3 at the end of the first quarter, Carbury looked in real trouble but they battled on bravely and gradually played their way into contention. Terry Rossiter, who scored 0-4 from open play, pointed in the 29th minute and in the last action of the first half David Cash drove a penalty to the Athy net after O'Brien had been fouled in the square.
It left Carbury four points (2-5 to 1-4) adrift at the break, an altogether more encouraging position than looked likely earlier on. However, they needed to maintain momentum on the restart but, just as happened in the first half, it was Athy who settled quickest.
Eaton, who finished with 1-4 from open play, kicked two early points, supplemented by a third from midfielder Kevin Feely leaving Carbury facing yet another crisis. County stars Morgan and Eoin O'Flaherty did their best to provide the necessary leadership for Carbury and with Rossiter a threat any time the ball came his way, Athy found themselves unable to press on and seal the deal as comprehensively as they might have expected.
Carbury pursued the leaders with dogged defiance and pared two points off the deficit before O'Brien's goal gave them genuine hope that they could complete the recovery.
"I was worried when Carbury cut our lead to two points late on but our lads held solid and got two vital points," said Brophy.
While the strong finish was important for Athy, it was the early burst which set the agenda.
"Those two early goals gave us the platform we needed. It meant that we didn't have to go chasing the game and could instead play on the counter-attack.
"We knew Carbury would come back at us but thankfully we had enough in hand to see us through in the end. It really is a special day for the Athy club," said Brophy.
While Carbury were left ruing those early defensive lapses, they would have to acknowledge that overall Athy were the better side. They won more possession than Carbury and used it better but were let down by wayward shooting, a malaise that also spread to their rivals.
Ultimately, though, it all came down to the wide disparity which emerged in the opening quarter of what was a most enjoyable encounter played in dry, overcast conditions.
"The two early goals really knocked us back. Athy were driving at us all the time and while we battled back we were only playing in patches," said Stephen Darby.
Still Carbury were in a position to rescue the situation when they cut the deficit to two points late on but couldn't quite see the job through to a successful conclusion.
Instead it was Athy, for whom county star Michael Foley was a steady anchor in defence, who took their place as Kildare's top club, bridging a 24-year gap to take their sixth title. They will play Offaly champions Edenderry in the first round of the Leinster club championship on November 13, a target which will gradually come into focus but not before hearty celebrations are enjoyed in the town.
"It just means so much to everyone. It was a long time coming but the hard work was put in and it paid off," said Mark Brophy.
Scorers -- Athy: J Eaton 1-4, C Reynolds 0-6 (3f), D Mulhall 1-0, K Feely 0-1. Carbury: T Rossiter 0-4, D O'Brien 1-1, D Cash 1-0 (pen), E O'Flaherty 0-2 (1f).
Athy -- J Roycroft; D Hyland, J Kinihan, D Holligan; R Bell, M Foley, T Gibbons; P Dunne, K Feely; A Kelly, K Brophy, L McGovern; D Mulhall, J Eaton, C Reynolds.
Subs: B Kinihan for Holligan (41), D O'Keeffe for Kelly (44), N Kelly for Brophy (57), E Kennedy for Bell (59), H Mahon for Eaton (63).
Carbury -- N Kenna; J Crown, C Kearney, D Cummins; P O'Reilly, M O'Flaherty, D Boyle; L Holt, S Costello; T Rossiter, D Cash, E O'Flaherty; D O'Brien. A Dermody, K McNamara,
Subs: D Moore for Cummins (21), W Groomes for Costello (h-t), G Mangan for Boyle (41), P Grace for Holt (48), S McLoughlin for McNamara (47).
Ref -- N McKenna (Ballyteague)