TWO first half goals from Player of the Match Oisin Connolly were pivotal in Castlegar taking victory over a resilient Athenry outfit in a cracking minor ‘A’ hurling decider at Kenny Park on Sunday. In doing so, the City club claimed their first title at this grade since 2005.
In contrast to the semi-finals, which were dour affairs, this was a fitting conclusion to the championship with two superb goals, magnificent scores, some top-drawer saves, inspirational fielding and a strong work ethic from both sides.
In addition, there were these beautiful flashes of magic and brilliance that captivated the large crowd which gathered at Kenny Park on a crisp Autumn afternoon tailor-made for hurling.
To some degree, though, this was a case of the timeless cliché of a game of two halves – with Castlegar owning it in the opening period before Athenry, although perhaps not to as great an extent, dominating proceedings in the second stanza.
Castlegar, however, really did set their stall out from the off and by the sixth minute they led 1-4 to 0-1 after a blistering opening. It looked as if this had the potential to be a whitewash and, in this regard, it was a credit to Athenry that they had the courage and heart to hang in there.
Setting Castlegar on their way, Oisin Connolly hit 1-2 – two frees – in those opening exchanges with his goal arriving following a super delivery from Dylan Carroll, who found in-rushing midfielder Sean Neary who, in turn, unselfishly handpassed off to Connolly.
While Neary and Stephen Coyne swelled Castlegar’s tally, Athenry did subsequently find their feet as the half progressed and by the end of the first quarter points from Sean Coleman, Cillian Lawless (two frees) and Martin Cullen – adding to an early Eoin Caulfield effort – remarkably saw them reduce the margin to a single goal.
Castlegar, as they showed they had a tendency to do, shifted up through the gears again and an unanswered 1-2 in three minutes saw Austin Sammon’s outfit jump into an eight-point lead. Again, Neary was the provider, running hard at the Athenry cover and while his shot was saved by goalkeeper Patrick Rabbitte, the custodian could do little with Connolly’s follow up.
Connolly would finish with 2-9 on the day – and, rightly, pick up the Player of the Match accolade – but what Castlegar as a whole possessed was a strong spine that incorporated Galway All-Ireland winner Mark Gill, an industrious midfield pairing of Matthew Kilgannon and Neary, and, of course, Connolly as their talisman in attack.
Full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune.