TWO crucial first half goals set Mullagh up for an opening day victory in the Senior B Hurling Championship at Duggan Park, Ballinasloe on Sunday.
Green flags for Cathal Dervan and Finian Coone tilted this tie in favour of the east Galway side before seven unanswered second half points ensured sufficient distance between the teams in the end.
Athenry will have many regrets, especially from the first half when they dominated for most of the period. But seven wides didn’t allow them transfer their possession onto the scoreboard and Mullagh took full advantage of their opportunities.
The winners struggled to settle in the opening exchanges as Athenry were dominating the middle third. Cian Burke got the opening point on three minutes before Ronan Hardiman landed his first free 60 seconds later for an Athenry two point advantage.
But Dessie O’Brien’s team finally managed a scoring chance when Paddy Hardiman set up Donal Reilly in the fifth minute. Reilly looked to have spurned a goal when his effort went across the posts and wide, but referee Michael Haverty had spotted an infringement in the square resulting in a Mullagh penalty. Cathal Dervan sent John Grealish the wrong way to ensure the three-pointer.
Despite this, Athenry looked unfazed and continued to impress with Michael Mullins and Ronan Hardiman contributing two points to make it 0-4 to 1-0. Dervan responded with a Mullagh free but Burke and Patrick Hannon cancelled that out stretching Athenry’s advantage. Hardiman, however, added two more placed balls by 19 minutes as Mullagh trailed by 0-8 to 1-3.
Athenry were in control but their two point cushion looked little reward for their efforts with Dervan and Coone scoring for Mullagh. And their failure to punish their opponents more severely proved costly as the game’s defining score arrived on 22 minutes.
Not just the finish but the nature of this goal was critical. A long Craig Finnerty clearance looked to have over carried and destined for the left and wide . . . but Coone was proving a nuisance at full forward chasing everything for Mullagh and didn’t relent. A slight touch kept the sliothar in play before and he managed to steer the ball over the line for a second Mullagh goal.
Mullagh were now in front and they finished the half strongly as Coone added two points to his account as they went in 2-5 to 0-8 ahead. It was a blow to Athenry but the break came at the right time and they resumed their task upon the restart.
Despite playing into the wind, Hardiman opened the second half’s scoring but Coone responded for Mullagh. Mark Hannon put his name on Athenry’s tally on 34 minutes before Francis Hardiman did likewise for Mullagh. And when Ronan Hardiman and Damien Fahy from the right converted for the maroon and white, the deficit was now just 2-7 to 0-12.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.