Athlone bowed out of this year’s championship when a late Downs goal condemned them to an agonising one-point defeat in their quarter-final replay in TEG Cusack Park on Saturday afternoon.
Athlone got off to a great start when a direct move straight from the throw-in led to a John Stapleton point after 12 seconds. However, as in the drawn game, they failed to build on their good start. Had it not been for some poor Downs’ finishing, Athlone would have trailed by more than the registered 0-3 to 0-1 scoreline after the opening quarter hour.
A Noel Mulligan ‘45’ and a John Connellan free brought Athlone level, and they were then very unlucky not to score a goal when a close-range Danny Reid shot was pushed onto the post, before his follow up effort was scrambled off the line.
Ray Connellan, in his first appearance since returning from Australia, did put Athlone ahead with a fine point, and the lead was doubled almost immediately by a score from his brother, John. But The Downs finished the half strongly, and a late brace of points sent the sides in level at the break at 0-5 apiece.
Athlone started the second half strongly with a pair of points from John Connellan, but The Downs responded with two of their own to even things up again. A John Connellan free restored Athlone’s lead, but again The Downs responded with a couple of points to regain the upper hand.
Ray Connellan equalised for Athlone and was unlucky not to add a goal when his powerful shot was saved by the keeper, although Noel Mulligan tapped the rebound over the bar to put Athlone 0-10 to 0-9 up with 10 minutes remaining.
A further John Connellan free was answered by a similar Downs’ score, before Athlone missed a golden chance to stretch their lead when, despite having a numerical advantage, they were unable to finish a fast break to the net and had to settle for a John Egan point from close range. Athlone were made pay for this miss straight away when a slick move from the kickout led to a Downs’ goal, which gave them a one point lead with five minutes left.
This set up a frantic finale, during which The Downs missed some chances to stretch their lead, while Athlone were unable to create the clearcut scoring opportunity they needed to force an equaliser. After five minutes injury time, The Downs held on to win by the narrowest of margins, 1-10 to 0-12.