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Athlone capture their first ever Westmeath Intermediate football championship title

posted 12 Oct 2015, 02:30 by Athlone GAA

Westmeath IFC Final:
Athlone 0-11 Tubberclair 0-9

Athlone captured their first ever Westmeath Intermediate football championship title and in so doing returned to the senior ranks at the first time of asking following last year's relegation, when they accounted for neighbours Tubberclair by a two point margin in Cusack Park.  While the game was never a classic, it was a full blooded encounter between two very committed teams that built up to a gripping finale and was undeserving of a lot of the criticism that it attracted.

Athlone started the stronger of the two sides and dominated the early possession, but some uncharacteristic poor finishing meant that they had five wides on the board before they eventually opened the scoring after seven minutes with a Ray Connellan point.  This was cancelled out shortly afterwards by a Tubberclair point after Fergal Murray had been dispossessed coming out of defence, but Connellan restored The Blues' lead from a free.  Tubberclair had come much more into the game at this stage but, fortunately for Athlone, they had their own problems taking their chances and kicked several wides.  Instead, after a long scoreless period, Noel Mulligan doubled the lead from a free after Athlone turned over at hop ball near the opposition goal that they had initially lost.  Ray Connellan stretched the lead further with a superb point from the right sideline after substitute Sam Omukoru (on the for the injured Matty Darling) had done brilliantly to regain possession and older brother John Connellan completed the first half scoring with a typically neat finish to leave Athlone leading by 0-5 to 0-1 as the teams went to the dressing rooms.

Given their own experience in the semi-final, Athlone knew that it was nowhere near job done and so it proved when Tubberclair halved the deficit with two fine points from play in the opening minute of the second half.  Roving wing-forward Stephen Ward did well to gather the ball and finish under pressure from several defenders to open Athlone's second half account, and the same player added another, with a Tubberclair point in between, to make the score 0-7 to 0-4 with 20 minutes remaining.  The men in Green and Gold then enjoyed their best spell of the game with three scores to bring the sides level as the match entered its final quarter, and the roar from the stand that greeted the equaliser made it clear the hopes of the majority of neutrals were with the underdogs.  Ray Connellan pushed Athlone back in front from a free, but that was quickly matched by a similar score from Tubberclair.

With being able to come back to draw level after scoring only once in the first half, and with the crowd behind them, it seemed that Tubberclair had the momentum needed to push on and win the game, but instead it was Athlone, who introduced experienced campaigners Joe Fallon and Mickey Greene to the forward line, who regained the initiative.  Firstly, a patient move across the forward line led to Ray Connellan restoring their advantage, which was extended two minutes later by another classy John Connellan score.  The Athlone forwards were getting more space as the game wore on and another good move led to a free, which was coolly converted by Joe Fallon to put three between them.  Gary Connaughton did well to save a goal-bound Mickey Greene effort that would surely have put the game beyond Tubberclair, and when a long range effort bounced over the Athlone crossbar to leave two between them with two minutes remaining, the result was back in doubt, especially when three minutes injury time was announced.  Athlone then put their supporters through hell with some questionable short and backwards passing in their own half as they attempted to run down the clock.  This led to a turnover which in turn led to a final Tubberclair chance when they won a free 40 yards out from the Athlone goal.  Fortunately there was not enough time remaining for two attacks so they were forced to play it short in the hope of creating a goal chance.  Disciplined defending from virtually the whole Athlone team meant that they were unable to force a clear cut opportunity.  Instead a speculative effort from distance was safely gathered by keeper Darren Costello, who was brought down as he tried to run the ball clear.  The subsequent free was the final act of the game and Athlone had held on to win their first Westmeath Intermediate title on a scoreline of 0-11 to 0-9.

Scorers Ray Connellan 0-5, John Connellan 0-2, Stephen Ward 0-2, Noel Mulligan 0-1, Joe Fallon 0-1.
Athlone: Darren Costello, Eoin Maher, Damien Kelly, Fergal Murray, Daniel Lynam, Noel Mulligan (capt), Matty Darling, John Stapleton, Ray Connellan, Stephen Ward, Jordan Marshment, John Egan, Dermot Bannon, Paul Bannon, John Connellan.
Subs Used: Sam Omukoro, Michael Greene, Joe Fallon, Dylan Lynch.