Delighted Loughrea supporters left wet and windy Kenny Park on Sunday afternoon, after witnessing victory in a hard fought battle over St. Mary’s Athenry.
Loughrea broke early from the traps, as Johnny O’Loughlin pulled on a loose ball and pointed within thirty seconds. Referee Greene cautioned Loughrea’s fullback Damien McClearn and Athenrys captain Eugene Cloonan, which was to have a huge influence on the outcome of the game. On the seventh minute Gavin Keary goaled brilliantly after good work by teammates O’Loughlin and Johnny Maher. Things went from bad to worse for Athenry, as Cloonan was sent off for receiving a second yellow card. Loughrea in a dominating position were guilty of bad wides from scoring positions early on before the heavens opened and conditions became difficult for both teams. A point from Gregory Kennedy on fifteen minutes increased Loughrea’s lead, but credit goalkeeper Micky Crimmins, who deflected the ball over from close range. With space at a premium both sides got bogged down, with few scoring opportunities available in a stop start game. Athenry’s first score came in the twentieth minute when a long puck out found the evergreen Joe Rabbitte who pointed from the 40. Athenry eventually came into the game and Rabbitte was unlucky when he pulled on a high ball that went just wide. The last score of the half came in injury time, when Athenry’s David Donohue pointed from a free to leave the score 1-2 to 0-2 in favour of Loughrea.
The rain continued to pour down as the second half resumed. It was the thirty-eight minute when the first score came, a brilliant point from midfield by Donohue. O’Loughlin replied for Loughrea from a free to make it 1-3 to 0-3. Gregory Kennedy caught a great ball and found a flying O’Loughlin who was fouled and he duly pointed. Minutes later Donohue scored a much-needed Athenry point to reduce the deficit to three. In the fiftieth minute Johnny Maher pointed from way out the field to leave it 1-5 to 0-4. Athenry’s never say die attitude was there for all to see as David Donohue found Michael John Quinn who buried the ball high to the roof of the Loughrea net. It was game on, with only a point between the teams and six minutes remaining. The game opened out with loose marking and open spaces, as limbs became heavy in the tiring conditions. Fourteen-man Athenry equalised with a superb point from Brian Hanley before Kenneth Colleran won a free with the game approached injury time. From thirty-five yards out O’Loughlin showed his class and composure from the placed ball to send his side through to the final. The closing two minutes of injury time remained scoreless, as Athenry tried in vain, but it was Loughrea who ran out winners by a single point.
Loughrea will play Portumna next Sunday in a repeat of the 2003 county senior hurling final. Fair play to Athenry who were very sporting in defeat to this gallant Loughrea outfit. If they can recover from this tough encounter, and sort out their injuries in seven days, they must have every chance against hot favourites Portumna.
Loughrea: N.Murray, T.Regan, D.McClearn, M.Kearns, J.Dooley, V.Maher, S.Creaven, B.Mahoney, N.Shaughnessy, B.Dooley, G.Keary (1-0), J.Maher (0-1), G.Kennedy (0-1), J.O’Loughlin (0-4), K.Colleran,
Athenry: M.Crimmins, T.Kelly, D.Cloonan, J.Feeney, B.Higgins, D.Carroll, L.Howley, S.Donohue, B.Hanley (0-1), J.Rabbitte (0-1), M.J.Quinn (1-0), S.Glynn, D.Moran, E.Cloonan, D.Donoghue (0-3).
Referee: Pat Greene.