Cathal Fahy’s steady return to the Athenry stronghold continued with the third goal in club’s 3-0 Premier League win against Salthill Devon on a blustering and bitter morning in Drom.
It was the ultimate injection the reigning premiers needed as they attempt to stay in touch with a fast vanishing West United at the top of the table if they want to keep hopes of a third straight title alive.
And it was a morning of firsts for Athenry as striker Seamie Crowe made his first impact on the season’s goal tally, not once but twice, while former Galway United player Fahy stepped up for his first league game and immediately made his presence felt. His return from injury had come a week prior with a goal in their FAI Junior Cup 2-1 win against Dynamo Blues.
But it is in the league that Athenry really need to start making some in-roads prior to the Christmas break as they remain four points behind West who still have a game in hand.
Conditions were never going to make for a pretty performance by either side, although the Drom ground had held up considerably well against the deluge. The swirling westerly breeze added another x-factor and it was Athenry who were able to exploit the advantage with two unanswered first half goals with the wind at their backs and a third late in the day.
Salthill were not in the contest at any point. In fact it was not until 24 minutes had passed in the second half that they had something that could be justified as a fair chance. The first half was all Athenry and the scoreboard reflected this with two Crowe goals in the fourth and 30th minutes.
Both were the result of free kicks, the first of which he took himself from the top left corner of the box, the second taken by Jamie O’Driscoll, but tapped left to Crowe who put it around the wall and past Salthill ‘keeper Ronan Forde for the second time. Forde faced a fierce frontal assault, particularly in the first half, Crowe stepping up to take further free kicks as referee Ger Cahill cracked down on a swathe of Salthill infringements outside the area.
From the field of play there were also numerous efforts as Benny Lawless smashed one off the left post after a break into the box while Paddy Quinn and Fahy both saw efforts drift wide. The 2-0 lead at the break was probably a fair margin given the stickiness underfoot, although Salthill were going to need an attacking facelift in the remaining 45 minutes to make an impression. Unfortunately for the home side it did not come and will do little to bolster the squad which has faced a tumultuous start to the year and remain entrenched third from the wrong end of the table.
Athenry began the second half just as they had exited the first, Lawless just missing a shot from out wide on the left after passes forward by O’Driscoll and Crowe, before putting another ball straight across the face of goal all within the first 10 minutes.
Salthill’s first effort was courtesy of striker Martin Maranek who attempted to slide into the box and deflect in a cross by Ronan Silke, but arrived slightly too late.
Crowe took aim at the other end from the kick-out, but Forde parried the point blank shot, before Fahy’s header from left back David Carroll’s cross was also claimed by the ‘keeper.
Fahy hit the back of the net for Athenry’s third with eight minutes remaining and it was an impressive effort as the ball came through from Pakie Byrne and Fahy held off the challenge of Salthill’s Rossa Mullis, rounding him and shooting low past Forde. The result allowed Athenry to claim their sixth clean sheet in their nine league games to date and will spur hopes in the camp that this season is far from lost.
Salthill Devon: Ronan Forde, Rossa Mullis, Brian Naughton (Damien Murphy, 85mins ), Alan McGee, Paul Fitzpatrick, Brian Geraghty, Ronan Gilligan (Dave McCormack, 58mins ), Sean Nevin, Marcin Maranek, Keith Shaughnessy, Ronan Silke.
Athenry: Kieran Kilkelly, David Carroll, Paddy Quinn, Kevin Carr (Conor Cannon, h-t ), David Crimmins, Pakie Byrne, Cathal Fahy, Jamie O’Driscoll, Emmett Byrne, Seamie Crowe (Shane Gilhooley, 87mins ), Benny Lawless (Mike Madden, 87mins )
Referee: Ger Cahill.