This contest, played under glorious autumnal sunshine yesterday morning in Bohermore, fashioned an enjoyable and sporting spectacle. The home side, despite missing a number of regular starters, were full value for the win, as an energetic second-half display turned the tie in their direction.
Not that Kevin Cassidy’s men showed any signs of effervescence in the first period. It was Athenry who opened the brighter in a lacklustre opening half as the holders enjoyed the lion’s share of chances. Benny Lawless’ screamer, just before the break, finally broke the deadlock and with it brought the tie to life.
When Hibs got possession in an advanced position during this half, the final ball always seemed to go astray, as they surrendered possession far too easily. Prior to their goal, Athenry had a couple of half chances and were also deprived by a couple of marginal offside calls.
Conor Cannon replaced the injured Michael Madden midway through the opening half and the substitute was central to his side’s opener. Defender–come–attacker Emmet Byrne found Cannon on the edge of the penalty area. Cannon’s deft touch fell perfectly to the oncoming Lawless who unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards to put Athenry deservedly ahead at the break.
On the resumption, Hibs immediately pressed but with their final ball now landing in their opponents’ danger area, they posed a real threat. Athenry will be none too pleased with the concession of the first as the diminutive Anthony Kelly didn’t have to leave the ground to head home from close range.
Hibs now probed the wings with greater success and it was Kelly’s midfield partner David Burke who climbed highest to get his head to Alan Shaughnessy’s inviting right wing cross. The connection was crisp and the ball nestled in the top corner to the home side’s delight.
Lawless, Cannon and Jamie O’Driscoll tried hardest to reignite the visitors’ challenge and their best chance of restoring parity fell to Cannon, who played a one two with the tireless Lawless following a strong run. The substitute’s strike didn’t do justice to the approach play, however, as he failed to hit the target.
Keith Ward’s exquisite corners were a feature of this game and one right wing corner caused consternation in the Athenry box, as ‘keeper Ciaran Gilhooley failed to gather. Shaughnessy was the grateful recipient of the break and he duly despatched, again with the head.
A number of late chances fell to both sides but Shaughnessy’s strike had quenched Athenry’s stomach for battle. Corofin’s Gary Delaney and Alan O’Donovan were on County final duty yesterday, and the regular unavailability of other dual players is thwarting their bid for a successful defence of their title.
Hibs also had a number of absentees although they coped admirably when they eventually sparked. They will hope to reverse their league result with West when they renew rivalry next weekend, and providing they get some of their walking wounded back, an intriguing battle awaits.
Hibernians: Adrian McPhilbin; Paul Loughlin, Mark Moran, Dave McDonagh, Colm Connolly; Keith Ward, David Burke, Anthony Kelly, Neil O’Leary (Gary Kelly 64 ); Alan Shaughnessy, Keith Ward.
Athenry: Ciaran Gilhooley; David Crimmins, Michael Fahy, Packie Byrne, Shane Gilhooley; Benny Lawless, Jamie O’Driscoll, Seamie Crowe, Paddy Quinn; Michael Madden (Conor Cannon 20 inj ), Emmet Byrne.
Referee: Tony Geasley.