IT may have been new territory for the hurlers of Ahascragh/Fohenagh at O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Sunday, but their pioneering spirit ensured that they weren’t daunted in the slightest at the prospect of taking on the highly-rated Munster champions.
Rookies to this level of competition and rank outsiders to carry the day, Ahascragh/Fohenagh rose to the occasion in magnificent style, producing a career-best team performance which had their increasingly rattled Lismore opponents on the ropes for much of the hour.
The Waterford title holders had come into this All-Ireland club intermediate semi-final with a tall reputation, but they were second best for much of a high-quality contest and their frustrations boiled over late on when both Maurice Shanahan and John Prendergast were sent to the line after being red-carded.
Lismore had laid siege to the Ahascragh/Fohenagh posts in the closing minutes, but a series of 20m frees yielded nothing as the Galway champions were in no mood to surrender a clear-cut advantage which had been the product of a high-energy, committed and skillful display.
Inspired by the terrific Mannion brothers, Padraic and Cathal, Ahascragh/Fohenagh also possessed the better team-work as they made a mockery of their pre-match odds of 3/1. All over the field, they hurled with an intensity and maturity which Lismore couldn’t cope with, and the seven-point margin at the finish proved an accurate reflection of the gulf between the teams.
Having taken two attempts to get the better of Ballyhaunis of Mayo in the Connacht final, Ahascragh/Fohenagh did have something to prove despite a long-awaited breakthrough in Galway, but they simply thrived in Sunday’s new surroundings and, clearly, have improved significantly since last winter.
This triumph represented a tremendous victory for the players and the Willie Dilleen led management team. They hit the ground running, never dropped their levels of concentration and produced bouts of really quality hurling which rocked the Waterford men.
Naturally, the individual fortunes of Ahascragh/Fohenagh’s county players, Paderaic and Cathal Mannion, was going to have a big influence on the outcome, and both were in the zone from the off. Centre back Padraic was simply brilliant in the opening-half, while Cathal finished with a dozen points to his name, including four glorious efforts from play.
Their leadership lifted the team to new heights. Wing back John Finnerty carried out a wonderful marking job on Maurice Shanahan; full back John Kelly hardly gave the anonymous Dan Shanahan a look in; the tireless Ronan Kelly fired-over three memorable points; while the fit again Luke Cosgrove was in the right place to expertly finish the game’s only goal in the 26th minute.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.