Reigning champions Garrycastle booked their place in the last four of this year’s competition at the expense of close neighbours Athlone in Hogan Park Moate on Saturday evening last.
The large crowd, many of whom had earlier witnessed Caulry edge out Tang in a highly entertaining game, were hoping for similar fireworks in the second game of the double header. While both sides were fully committed the game never really came to life. Garrycastle protected their four point half time lead like a dog with a bone, and only an Athlone goal could have seriously upped the ante.
With the likes of Gary Dolan, James Duignan, Aiden Browne, and Enda Mulvihill ruled out it was felt that The Castle might be vulnerable. Unfortunately from an Athlone perspective we too were badly hit with injuries and Garrycastle’s greater strength in depth was a telling factor.
Forced to start without centre-back Damo Kelly and wing-back Adam Ward and with Paul Bannon being forced to retire with an Achilles problem, we struggled to find our rhythm. We needed to have a full complement of players if we were to pose a serious threat to last year’s beaten Leinster finalists.
When Tom McHugh received his marching orders just before half time following an altercation with Mickey Greene, there was a general feeling that it might just be Athlone’s day.
Anthony Cunningham’s men had other ideas however and to their credit they dug deep in the second half to negate the extra man. Paul Dillon and Justin McAteer were very much to the fore in driving their team on and kicked 8 points between them.
It’s never nice to come out the wrong side of a local derby. It’s never nice to lose a quarter final. It would have been sweet to mark our 125 years in business as a club with some silverware. Yet all in Athlone would admit that the green and reds were deserving winners on the day.
We have made some progress this year under new boss Malachy Gately, reaching the quarter final for the first time in a number of years. If we can unlock the potential that exists in our panel and build on the early season form we showed this year, then I see no reason why we shouldn’t go a step or two further next year.
For Garrycastle the prize is a semi-final meeting with Killucan. Garrycastle are open to further improvement and they will be well aware that they will need to improve to overcome the challenge of Killucan. For the time being however, they remain on course to defend their title.