ATHENRY 0-15 PORTUMNA 0-13 Galway SHC final ATHENRY'S abdication from the Galway club hurling throne was a short one as they eclipsed the reigning champions Portumna in a rip-roaring final at Pearse Stadium yesterday.
With three All-Ireland and seven Galway titles accrued from the previous 17 years no one could have expected them to chase down this game with such fervour. But few, if any, of Athenry's previous seven Galway titles since 1987 have been savoured with such relish as this one after a month of boardroom battles and controversy.
They lost Shane Donoghue through a six-month suspension after the embittered quarter-final win over Loughrea that put the entire championship on hold for a couple of weeks.
Ultimately Athenry did their talking on the field when it mattered most however and the loudest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for Donoghue when he was invited up by winning captain Eugene Cloonan for a joint hoisting of the Tom Callanan Cup afterwards.
Cloonan would later reveal that they "chased and struck every ball in that second half for Shane".
"We felt he was hard done by with a six-month suspension but this win will help to ease the pain of that. At the start of the year we set out to win back the Galway title and nothing was going to put us off that goal," he declared.
In the winning dressing room afterwards manager Billy Caulfield pulled the players and supporters gathered together and spoke of "a harrowing few weeks".
This was the pay off. Their greater experience probably told in the end and the superb marshalling of the dangerous Damien Hayes by their defence, he was restricted to just one of Portumna's 13 points, which was the key to their success.
The sides were level on nine different occasions and without a goal it was always going to boil down to who held their nerve at the business end. Athenry have been down this road so often before and when they fell behind to a 58th minute point from 16-year-old Joe Canning they responded like a team with so much glory should, by grabbing the final three scores to squeeze the life out of the champions.
It was a glorious afternoon for their more battle hardened players like Joe Rabbitte, Paul Hardiman and Brian Feeney who have now played some part in each of the eight previous titles since '97. Rabbitte may not be the force of old but he was still the perfect foil for younger and more mobile players like Donal Donoghue and Donal Moran to thrive.
Cloonan defied a painful back injury to play his part with eight points - seven from frees. But Athenry's defence must take the lion's share of the credit for restoring them to power. Diarmuid Cloonan survived a shaky start on Andrew Smith to dominate in the second half while young corner-back Thomas Kelly showed what a bright future he has.
Hardiman had a good opening on Hayes before the flying Portumna man opened up either side of half-time. But a quick and decisive change by the Athenry line saw Brian Higgins shift wings and that had the desired effect in closing Hayes down. Athenry looked like they could pull away easily midway through the first half when they surged three points clear through a Cloonan '65' and points from Donal Moran and MJ Quinn to lead by 0-7 to 0-4. The quality of the scores was striking and overall standard will have restored some of the buckled faith in Galway hurling after an indifferent summer.
Hayes had hardly touched the ball when he pounced for his one and only score on 23 minutes to trigger the Portumna response. With Ollie Canning and Eoin Lynch magnificent in defence Portuma settled and reeled off the next four scores too as Smith, the first half protagonist, brought his tally to six including two superb points from play and Kevin Hayes, always a lurking danger at centre-forward, added another.
But crucially Cloonan pointed from a free as half-time approached and at 0-9 to 0-8 in arrears Athenry were perfectly positioned. Cloonan had them level within six minutes of the restart but Portuma managed to stay ahead through Kevin Hayes and Joe Canning who clipped over superbly on 50 minutes from a sideline.
But Athenry were unbreakable and with five minutes of added time they showed their steel to push clear. First David Donoghue equalised, then substitute Derek Carroll, only on the field six minutes, gave them the lead before, fittingly, Donoghue closed the account with the insurance point.
SCORERS - Athenry: E Cloonan 0-8 (5f, 2 '65'), D Donoghue 0-3, D Moran 0-2, MJ Quinn, D Carroll 0-1 each. Portumna: A Smith 0-7 (5f), K Hayes, J Canning (1f) 0-2 each, D Hayes, G Heagney 0-1 each.
ATHENRY - M Crimmins; T Kelly, D Cloonan, J Feeney; B Higgins, B Feeney, P Hardiman; B Hanley, L Howley; M J Quinn, J Rabbitte, D Moran; D Burns, E Cloonan, D Donoghue. Subs: A Poniard for Burns (18), M Donnellan for Hardiman (32), E Caulfield for Poniard (53), D Carroll for Howley (57).
PORTUMNA - I Canning; M Gill, E McEntee, O Canning; G Heagney, E Lynch, A O'Donnell; I Muldoon, L Smith; D Hayes, K Hayes, N Hayes; F Canning, A Smith, J Canning. Subs: C Ryan for F Canning (40), P Smith for Heagney (63).
REF - P Greene (Craughwell).