The New Year started for Willow Park's Leinster Senior League team on a losing note as they came out on the wrong side of a penalty shootout. Inchicore Athletic were the hosts in the first round of the Lummy O’Reilly Cup last Friday night and, after extra time had failed to produce a winner, the Dublin team prevailed on penalties.
It had started well for Willow when Kieran McNally opened the scoring but the home team quickly levelled matters. Willow proceeded to then dominate the second half but could not produce a winner. Inchicore were again under pressure in extra time but held out for the dreaded penalty shootout. Penalties are always a lottery as Athletic held their nerve to advance to the next round on a four to three score line. It was revenge of sorts for Inchicore who had lost an earlier league encounter in Athlone.
The year may not have started in the desired fashion but the DPD Park based club can look back with some satisfaction on the campaign to date. Since joining the Leinster Senior League after many successful years in the Combined Counties League, a momentum has carried them up a number of divisions to now nestle in Sunday Division 1A. The Athlone team have not found the further step up as difficult as many had thought and are well placed for a further promotion as the campaign is now half way completed.
The season started well with a home win over Portlaoise back in August. Just one further defeat followed at DPD Park as Declan Holohan's men soared into second place on the league table. Indifferent form on their travels though has stifled Willow somewhat with three defeats in visits to the capital. Collinstown FC are the current leaders, five points clear of Willow.
The teams were due to meet before Christmas but the game was postponed. Collinstown made it four wins in a row at the weekend. Willow signed off on the 2019 league campaign by putting five past Dunboyne with Kevin Murray the hat trick hero in Meath. An average of two goals a game certainly has Willow flying on the scoring front. Barring a late surge, the title now looks to be a three-way race between Collinstown, Willow and Tolka Rovers.
There is a major test of Willow's title aspirations on Saturday night when third placed Tolka, two points behind, are the visitors. The home team will be looking to complete the double over Rovers who suffered their only defeat to date at the hands of Willow back in early September. Tolka, though, are a seriously strong outfit and have boosted their squad with the addition of two players familiar to Athlone Town supporters. Dean George and Jamie Hamilton were regular squad members in last season’s First Division campaign. Both were on target in a six one thrashing of Corduff in the first outing of the New Year and will need to be closely marked. A win for either team will be significant in the title’s destiny.