Colossus Cloonan leads Athenry to sixth title
ATHENRY 2-14 SARSFIELDS 3-7 IT was to groundsman Willie Ward's eternal credit that the Galway SHC final went ahead at Duggan Park, Ballinasloe yesterday as it gave so many the opportunity to admire the incredible performance of Athenry's Eugene Cloonan.
After the game survived a continuous downpour in the hours leading up to throw-in, it was Cloonan who stole the show. The full-forward ended up with a total of two goals and ten points in a contribution which left Sarsfields a broken team at the end.
No one could remember when a player had made a greater contribution to a Galway final, but I will be surprised if this is not remembered as the `Eugene Cloonan final'.
It was clear that Sars came into this game full of determination and they hurled with a real will to win but they could never have bargained for Cloonan's impact. If they felt they had done their homework on Cloonan they soon learned that you simply cannot plan for a man with so much skill and the ability to score points from prodigious distances. Yesterday, he scored from frees of 80, 85 and almost 90 yards.
His first goal after 12 minutes came out of nothing. There appeared to be no danger from David Donoghue's centre but somehow Cloonan flicked it off Brendan Cooney's stick and before goalkeeper Tommy Kenny had time to think he was picking the ball out of the net.
Six minutes later Cooney appeared to have done all the hard work when he blocked a shot and made the clearance only to virtually look over his shoulder to see Cloonan finishing Brendan Keogh's centre to the net.
From there on, Cloonan strode through the field like a colossus, landing points from frees and play with such consistency that it was to Sarsfields great credit that they actually made a match of it in the second half.
A couple of classy goals from the impressive Cathal Murray said plenty about how much Sars wanted this title as the game developed into a slog in the second half where strength of will was paramount.
Murray's two strikes - especially for his second goal after two minutes of the second half when he shook off tackles from Gerry Keane and John Feeney - was a classic as he beat county goalkeeper Michael Crimmins with a low shot that had the fanatical Sarsfields supporters leaping into the air.
It was hard to blame them as they saw visions of their first title in three years but that was nothing compared to shouts which greeted the third goal 12 minutes from the end after the gifted Joe Cooney saw his sideline cut dropped to the net by Crimmins. That goal left the challengers trailing by just a single point (2-9 to 3-5).
The fat was now in the fire but within 30 seconds Donal Moran showed that Athenry were no one-man team as he split the uprights and Donoghue added his second to ease the pressure on the All-Ireland champions.
Aidan Donoghue came back for his fourth point for Sars but Cloonan struck again and then, during a truly hectic last 10 minutes, we witnessed another colossal performance, this time from Brian Feeney at the middle of the Athenry defence. Feeney fetched and cleared everything that came his way in this spell.
Paul Hardiman on the left wing and Brian Higgins on the right had been doing similar work all day, while Brian Hanley at midfield gave a wonderful performance alongside Keogh who had a great battle with the evergreen Cooney.
Gerry Keane, Eamonn Keogh and Pat Higgins were others to shine for Athenry but equally Padraic Kelly, Padraic Forde and Donal Keane played themselves to a standstill in the Sars defence. However, their attack couldn't capitalise on the chances afforded them - with the exception of Murray - although credit must go to Aidan Donoghue for the way he won so much of the early battle with Feeney.
On this form, Athenry, who were winning their sixth title to become the first team since Turloughmore to garner three Galway crowns in succession, can now match Sarsfields and become only the second team to win back-to-back AllIrelands.
SCORERS - Athenry: E Cloonan 2-10 (5f), D Donoghue 0-2, D Moran, P Higgins 0-1 each. Sarsfields: C Murray 2-1, A Donoghue 0-4 (2f, 1 '65), J Cooney 1-1 (1-0, sideline), M McGrath 0-1.
ATHENRY - M Crimmins; E Keogh, G Keane, J Feeney; B Higgins, B Feeney, P Hardiman; B Keogh, B Hanley; J Rabbitte, P Higgins, D Moran; C Moran, E Cloonan, D Donoghue. Subs: S Donoghue for C Moran, D Higgins for D Moran.
SARSFIELDS - T Kenny; Padraic Kelly, B Cooney, D Keane; P Foran, M Ward, W Earls; N Morrissey, J Cooney; M McGrath, A Donoghue, R Quinn; C Murray, J McGrath, Peter Kelly. Subs: P McMahon for Quinn, A McMahon for Morrissey.
REF - M Carroll (Galway).