Liam Mellows kept themselves well placed for a top two finish in group one of the senior hurling championship with a dominant performance that saw off an underpar Tommy Larkins side by 1-18 to 3-8 in Kenny Park, Athenry, on Sunday afternoon.
Two late goals put some respectability on the scoreline for Larkins, but they will have some soul-searching to do after a four-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit in a devastating 25 minutes. Liam Mellows tireless workrate in defence limited Larkins' chances, and Tadhg Haran’s 17th minute goal began the turnaround.
Haran was aided by the excellence of Conor Kavanagh and Jack Hastings in the final third, and with Stephen Barrett and Sean Morrissey in decent form at the back, it was no surprise Mellows had moved into a 1-7 to 1-4 lead by the 25th minute.
Six unanswered points in the third quarter really put Mellows in command. Captain David Collins continued his good form with a couple of important scores, with Mark Hughes and Ronan Elwood also getting their names on the scoresheet.
Larkins struggled to create any sort of scoring opportunities until Galway star Jason Flynn landed a much-needed ’65 and also converted a 48th minute free, but Mellows were in no mood to relinquish their position as points by Kavanagh and Haran made it 1-15 to 1-8 on 54 minutes.
Haran contributed three more points before the end as Larkins went in search of goals, and they managed to rifle in two through Colm Flynn and Darren Duggan, but they arrived far too late to have any meaningful impact on the final outcome.
Elsewhere in group one, Turloughmore were six-point winners over Castlegar as Ronan Badger netted once again for Turlough, while St Thomas went to town on Portumna, running out 6-26 to 0-19 victors. Portumna and Castlegar look likely candidates for the relegation play-offs, with Liam Mellows still hopeful of breaking into the top two.
In group two, Gort were again the big losers as they fell to a 2-19 to 0-22 loss to Sarsfields, who are now guaranteed a last eight spot. Loughrea will join them in the quarter-finals after they recorded a three-point win over Cappataggle on Sunday evening.
This result leaves Gort in a perilous position and they will drop into the relegation play-offs if they fall to their third defeat in the last round against Tynagh Abbey/Duniry. Kilnadeema-Leitrim will finish up in the bottom two after conceding two injury-time points against Tynagh Abbey/Duniry.
In Senior B group one, there were wins for Athenry, Oranmore/Maree, and Craughwell, who are all still in the race to finish top of the group and claim promotion to the top tier. Beagh can still save their season if they can beat Ahascragh/Fohenagh in their last group game to avoid the relegation play-off.
In group two, Clarinbridge confirmed their title credentials with a win over Killimordaly, while Ballinderreen and Ardrahan played out a draw after Mullagh and Abbeyknockmoy had recorded a similar result a day earlier.
Abbeyknockmoy are all but certain to now be in the relegation play-off, while Mullagh will take on Ballinderreen on the final day with third place in the group still up for grabs.
LIAM MELLOWS: K Walsh; B Leen, C Reilly, L O’Donovan; M Hughes (0-1 ), S Barrett, S Morrissey; K Lee, C Elwood (0-1 ); J Hastings (0-2 ), D Collins (0-2 ), R Elwood (0-1 ); A Morrissey (0-1 ), T Haran (1-8, 6fs ), C Kavanagh (0-2 ). Subs: J Kenny for Reilly (36 mins ), D McPeake for R Elwood (41 mins ), J Forde for Lee (48 mins ), C Hynes for A Morrissey (54 mins ), J Keville for Kavanagh (54 mins ).
TOMMY LARKINS: E Murphy; J Sheil, C Tuohy, C Nevin; O Forde, B McCormack, N Gorman; K McHugo, C Flynn (1-1 ); K Hooban, J Flynn (0-4, 2fs, 1 ’65 ), C Gardiner (1-2 ); D Hickey (0-1 ) , R Murphy, E Nevin. Subs: D Duggan (1-0 ) for Hooban (40 mins ).
REFEREE: J McDonagh.