Athlone GAA minors qualified for the Leinster club final with a dramatic one-point extra time win over Carlow champions Fenagh last Sunday.
The Athlone team showed great heart to come from three points down in extra time to steal it at the death with a Sean Dowd goal.
Fenagh were first off the mark with two frees as Athlone struggled to find their rhythm in the early stages. However, a well-taken Shane Allen goal after an incisive team move got Athlone on the score sheet. Benny Martin then raised their first white flag, before the same player got Athlone’s second goal with a neat finish after another flowing move.
The Carlow champions recovered from those setbacks with another brace of points, but another Benny Martin point, followed by a third excellent goal, this time finished off by Josh Beaumont, put Athlone seven points clear.
This scoreline flattered Athlone as Fenagh were having plenty of possession. The Carlow outfit found their shooting boots to kick four unanswered points, reducing the gap to a goal. Athlone had the final say of the half when Mark Egan fisted over to leave his side ahead by 3-3 to 0-8.
Fenagh started the second half as they had the first, with two points halving the deficit. However, Kieran Colclough’s customary '45’ and a Beaumont point from a powerful shot that struck the crossbar kept daylight between the sides.
The Carlow side continued to battle and kicked four points in a row to bring themselves level. Athlone received a further blow in this period when substitute Eamon Martin was harshly sent off.
Just when it looked like Athlone were in trouble, Shane Allen lifted the siege with an inspirational score, but the 14 men were unable to hold out and Fenagh forced extra time with point from a close range free.
Athlone were deflated at being caught at the death and, with extra time being only five minutes per half, Fenagh looked the more likely winners as they started the additional time with three quick points. A Sean Dowd point from a free with the last kick of the half kept Athlone in touch.
The momentum switched again in the after the mini-break as Athlone dominated possession, but three poor wides meant that they still trailed by two as the game entered its final minute. However, one final attack saw Sean Dowd get on the end of a beautifully floated ball from Enda Daly to flick the ball to the net.
There was still time for more drama as team captain Shane Allen received a black card, but the free was overturned when the fouled Fenagh player got a straight red card for retaliation, and Athlone held on to win by the narrowest of margins, 4-7 to 0-18.
Athlone face Kildare side Clane in the Leinster minor final next Saturday, December 9 at 3pm in Eire Óg GAA Club in Carlow town.