It’s not often that a relegation battle draws a bigger gate than a normal double header but that is what transpired in Tang last Saturday evening as Athlone and Tubberclair battled it out to retain their senior status.
While the game itself was far from a classic the relief and joy exhibited by the town side at the final whistle was an indication of just how important this result was for the blues. After a disappointing campaign holding onto senior status became almost as valuable as winning the Flanagan Cup itself.
Tubberclair, as expected, battled hard to avoid the drop back down to intermediate ranks and indeed held the lead until midway through the second half. Martin McCabe and Danny Sammon’s inside forwards, while living off scraps, were more economical than their counterparts who kicked 15 wides over the hour.
Ultimately though Athlone’s dominance in the possession stakes began to pay off and once Tom Trainor fisted the equalizer Athlone grew in confidence. A terrific John Egan effort put the winners in front and when Dermie McManus blasted beyond the reach of Gary Connaughton it was game, set, and match.
Ray Connellan who made a big impression when introduced at the break kicked a great individual point and with Athlone holding a four point lead with as many minutes remaining Paul Bannon had the luxury of taking a point from the penalty spot.
Tubberclair will be disappointed to lose their senior status but their cause was particularly badly hampered this year through injury and absentees. If they regroup in the spring they certainly have the material to bounce back next year.
Athlone will be especially heartened by the performances of our younger players with the likes of Dermot Piggott, Brian Gill, Robbie Henshaw, Ray Connellan, and Andy Lynam leading from the front. With such young talent in our ranks we will be hoping to give a better account of ourselves in the group stage next year.