WINNING the Kildare county title for the first time in 24 years ensured that 2011 will always be fondly recalled in Athy, and now the attempt to make it even more memorable is gathering impressive momentum.
Their young side has retuned its ambitions towards Leinster domination, a target which looks by no means unrealistic. Athy are learning fast, a process which was further enhanced in Newbridge yesterday as they outgunned an equally youthful Edenderry side to set up a quarter-final clash with Carlow champions Old Leighlin next Sunday.
Athy twice faced a major test of their resolve, but responded in a manner which suggests that there is a whole lot more to come from this squad.
Their Leinster campaign is being conducted without All Star defender Mick Foley, who is away on his travels, but the rearguard coped well in his absence, with young corner-back David Hyland especially prominent, while Brian Kinihan and Emmanuel Kennedy also did well.
However, it was the dominance exerted around midfield by Kevin Feely and Pat Dunne which established the platform on which Athy based much of their more constructive work. Feely made several excellent catches and used possession intelligently, while Dunne was also busy and inventive.
Feely hoisted a splendid point 10 seconds into the second half, and Dunne added two more in the 39th and 40th minutes to crown a wonderful opening for Athy, who trailed by 1-2 to 0-2 at half-time.
They kicked five unanswered points with the wind in the first 10 minutes of the second half to open up a two-point lead and leave Edenderry facing a serious challenge.
It was such a different experience from the first half for the Offaly champions, whose packed defence had frustrated Athy to the point of distraction.
Conscious that Athy had done most of the damage in the first half of the county final against Carbury, Edenderry sought to close off as many channels as possible, and did it most effectively too.
Midfielder Derek Kelly dropped back into defence, as did Johnny Hurst, a pre-match replacement for wing-forward Ciaran Hurley and, while Athy enjoyed lots of possession in the first half, they failed to make it count in the congested approach routes to the Edenderry goal.
"We were a bit hesitant and tended to give the ball to a man in a standing position. Edenderry were defending very well, getting plenty of men behind the ball. We were a bit rusty too -- the five week lay-off since the county final certainly didn't help," said Athy manager Mark Brophy.
Edenderry's defensive resilience was most impressive, but Athy had to contend with another problem in the form of inaccuracy.
They shot nine wides in the first half and while some of that was down to Edenderry pressurising the kickers, they also missed some scoreable frees, including one from 13 metres which Darroch Mulhall pulled wide.
With Edenderry flooding their defensive half, they relied on breakouts to apply pressure on the Athy defence, but it worked quite well. Stuart Cullen and Keith McGuinness did well off limited possession, with the latter scoring an opportunist goal in the 17th minute (their first score).
Edenderry were pleased to take a three-point lead to the dressing-room at half-time, as Athy had won far more possession, but the pattern changed dramatically on the turnaround.
"We asked the lads to up the tempo and to be a bit more positive for the second half and thankfully it worked. We got a few scores in quick succession and were back in the game," said Brophy.
Athy's inaccuracy continued throughout the second half (seven wides), but when they took a three-point lead into the final 10 minutes, they looked certain to seal the deal.
However, Edenderry refused to yield and hit a fertile patch between the 52nd and 55th minutes, scoring three points from Stephen Guing, Richie Dalton (free) and McGuinness.
Suddenly, the momentum appeared to be with Edenderry, but all changed in the 56th minute when Athy sub Danny O'Keeffe won possession close to the town goal, spun into a shooting position and beat goalkeeper Brian Quinlan with a crisp shot.
That was the final score of the day; while Edenderry tried valiantly to create an equalising goal on the run-in, Athy held solid.
Given the amount of possession Athy won, their final return of 1-8 was disappointing, but the likes of Liam McGovern, James Eaton and Ken Brophy still did enough to suggest that the attack has huge potential.
"Playing in Leinster is a totally new experience for us. Hopefully, we will be better the next day. We'd certainly need to step up on our first-half performance," said Brophy.
Still, he will have been pleased by the amount of possession Athy won and also hugely encouraged by the constructive manner in which they worked their way through problems.
There was always a risk that a young side might capitulate after wasting so many first-half chances, but Athy's positive opening to the second half showed that their inner belief was solidly based.
As for Edenderry, they must have thought they were poised to extend what has been a very progressive season when they drew level with five minutes remaining, but they were quickly unhinged by O'Keeffe's goal.
Still, Edenderry manager Peter Brady can be pleased with the season's work as his young side returned to the Offaly summit.
Their plan to take it further went well for the first half and again for a brief period late in the second period, but sagged between the 30th and 50th minutes, a spell which yielded six crucial points for Athy.
Those, plus O'Keeffe's goal, ensured that the provincial dream lives on for Athy.
Scorers -- Athy: D O'Keeffe 1-0, D Mulhall, P Dunne, C Reynolds (2f) 0-2 each, K Brophy, K Feely 0-1 each. Edenderry: K McGuinness 1-2, S Cullen, S Guing, D Kelly 0-1 each.
Athy -- J Roycoft; D Hyland, B Kinihan, J Kinihan; R Bell, E Delahunt, E Kennedy; P Dunne, K Feely; T Gibbons, C Reynolds, L McGovern; D Mulhall, K Brophy, J Eaton. Subs: D Holligan for J Kinihan (ht), D O'Keeffe for Mulhall (50), A Kelly for Brophy (56), T Dunne for Delahunt (57).
Edenderry -- B Quinlan; D Meleady, D Hanlon, S Pender; C Byrne, D Kelly, W Mooney; S Guing, R Dalton; J Hurst, B Malone, K McGuinness; M Keogh, S Cullen, M Young. Subs: C Hurley for Malone (45), S Doyle for Keogh (45), D Nolan for Young (51), C McNamara for Mooney (61).
Ref -- G McCormack (Dublin)