The season is over for Athlone Town U17s as they were knocked out of the Shield competition at the quarter-final stage by Cobh Ramblers last Saturday afternoon.
The visitors overcame conceding an early penalty kick, which Athlone missed, to lead at the break through a free kick from Ryan O’Regan. Ramblers' passage to the last four was secured with a second goal before the hour mark as Mick Dolan's charges exited the competition in meek fashion when hopes were high that the Town could prolong their season with a win.
Athlone were forced to line out without Joe Dwyer, who had recently been called up for international duty, and his influence in midfield was badly missed. Evan Fahys absence in defence was also a blow. Darcy Lawless started between the posts in place of Matthew Rowden.
Confidence in both camps was sky high following six goal triumphs in the previous round. Athlone were presented with a great chance to further boost their spirits and open the scoring when awarded a penalty kick with just eight minutes played. A Dean Murphy left-wing cross was handled by Alex Connolly, giving the hosts the ideal start, but Joe Carmody failed to take advantage as Cobh goalkeeper Christian Begley dived to his right to push away the spot kick.
Cobh took the lead after 17 minutes. This time it was the home side's turn to be penalised for a push on the edge of the penalty area. Ryan O’Regan sent the resulting free kick around the defensive wall and to the net past the home keeper. Eoin Davis had two chances to increase the lead while Ciaran Burns and Paddy Gantly responded for the home side, but Cobh held firm to head off for the half-time break with a narrow lead.
Athlone looked to respond after the half-time break, earning an early corner kick. However, it was Cobh who grabbed the next goal as they increased their lead with 58 minutes played. There was little between the sides throughout but crucially Ramblers took full advantage when presented with the opportunities to find the net. A free kick on the right of the penalty area was punched clear by Lawless, but Stephen O’Regan pounced to drill the loose ball into the net from close range as Athlone failed to clear the danger from another dead ball situation.
Having been pushed forward into midfield from his starting position of full back, Luke Kelly tried his luck from long range. On a day when little went right for the Town, the effort sailed wide. At the midway point of the half, Athlone earned two corners in quick succession, but they were failing to turn their possession into goals. Conor Layng was clearly frustrated up front at the few chances that fell his way.
With all three substitutions made, manager Dolan had played his cards in an attempt to get back into contention. Carmody was again out of luck after 80 minutes when his good strike was saved by the keeper, while Murphy was also denied by Begley who dealt with his long-range attempt on goal. A corner kick with less than five minutes left was again wasted and the final home chance fell to Murphy on the stroke of full time but he too was off target with a shot which flew wide.
Cobh came close to making it three in the five additional minutes that were played when the unmarked John Browne failed to direct on target his header following a corner kick. The final whistle sounded soon after and so the miss mattered little to either team, the outcome having been decided by this late stage.
Ramblers now meet Mervue United in the semi-final and with home advantage will be confident of making the final, while Athlone will reflect on what might have been had they converted that penalty kick so early in the tie.