The Fulfilment of a Dream – Easter 1998

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For the first time since it’s inauguration in 1971 Féile na nGael was being hosted by Galway in 1980 and 1981.  This was a golden opportunity for clubs in the county to promote and develop under age hurling.

In 1980 we were well beaten in our three local Féile games.  However, we performed very well in the division 2 finals and were only beaten by one point in the semi-final.

Again in 1981 we were beaten in our three local games but did very well to reach the semi-final with a very young team.  The loss of John Hardiman through injury was a severe blow and we were beaten by 2.6 to 1. 1.

Later in the year we won the Galway and Connacht Community Games Championships so Athenry were off to Mosney for the National Finals for the first time. However, we were no match for a very skilful Faranree team from Cork and were beaten by 7.8 to 2.3. Athenry also won the minor B Chamipionship with a scoreline of 3.13 to 1.5 against Carnmore.

In 1982 we were not considered good enough for the U14 A Championship so we were relegated to Division B. After a hectic campaign we won the competition beating Annaghdown by 1.10 to 3.1 in the final.  Again, we qualified for the Community Games in Mosney.  This year we approached the finals with more confidence.  In the semi-final Athenry had a great win over a fancied Dublin team winning by 5.4 to 1.3. In the final we were again pitted against Faranree and the possibility of reversing a 20 point defeat the previous year looked daunting.

In a thrilling final in which Faranree looked to have the upperhand and were leading by two points with one minute remaining.  But this Athenry team was not going to surrender easily and a marvellous passing movement involving several players ended with Tommy Morrissey scoring a spectacular goal.  Seconds later the final whistle sounded and hundreds of delirious fans ran onto the field to congratulate the winners. Kevin Coyne became the first captain to bring the Central Council Trophy across the Shannon.

Seven of this panel played in the All Ireland Club Final in 1997, Eamonn Keogh, Brian Feeney, Gerry Keane, Paul Hardiman, Joe Rabbitte, Cathal Moran and Brendan Keogh.  This victory brought a great sense of unity to the Parish and we got great support from the parents and schools. The under 21 B team also won the final in 1982 while we were beaten in the U 12 A final and the U 13 Final we had a very successful year.

After our great achievements of 1982 we looked forward to 1983 with great optimism but what was really needed was to win an A championship.  Our U-14 hurlers were now in the Division A Championship.  They performed very well but were unlucky to be beaten by a good Castlegar team in the quarter final.  This was a major disappointment as we felt we were good enough to win the competition.  We won the Community Games competition making it three in a row, so we were off to Mosney again to defend our All Ireland title. This time we were unlucky to be beaten by one point in the same final by Roseree, the eventual winners, so our hopes of another successful year were dashed but with so many young hurlers available we awaited the Centenary year with optimism.

In the 1984 U 14 Championship Athenry defeated Turloughmore, Sarsfields, Killimor, Moycullen, Castlegar and Killimordaly to reach the final. Our opponents were Abbey-Duniry a very competent team with a great record at U12 and schools Championships. On a thrilling final Athenry held on to win by 2 points, so after five years the ice was broken and Athenry had won their first final A championship since 1969.  The captain Brian Feeney accepted the Joe Sammon Trophy on behalf of the team. Athenry represented Galway at the Féile na nGael finals in Wexford. We won our first match easily but were beaten by one goal in our second game.  The minor A team reached the County final and gave a great performance before losing by 4.10 to 1.12 to a very good Turloughmore team.  In 1985 all underage teams performed well winning the U.16s A championship for the first time since 1968.

1986 was another very successful year winning the U16A and the first of the three in a row minor A championships with players of all age groups now oozing with confidence. This proved to be a memorable year for the club.  After a hectic struggle the minors retained their title.  The U21 team won their first A title and this was a great achievement for a team that was beaten so comprehensively at U-14 in 1980.

The highlight of the year however was when the senior team captained by Mattie Gannon won the first title for Athenry. The club had now created a record in Co. Galway by winning all three titles in one year.  A record to last?

P.J Molloy’s influence on this historic senior success was enormous.  In the last minute of the quarter-final v Kiltormer he turned a three point turn deficit into a one point win.  He contributed 2.9 against Gort in the semi-final and 6 glorious points in the county final against Castlegar.

The homecoming and reception in the square would be hard to surpass.  Having won the Connacht Final their next opponents were Rathmure, the Leinster Champions in the semi-final and after a great victory Athenry had qualified for their first All-Ireland Club final.

This first for the Parish generated great local interest and a huge crowd travelled to Croke Park for the final.  However, luck was not on their side and were beaten by a very experienced Middleton team.

1988 to 1993 were successful years underage, winning the minor and U21 in 1988, U21 in 1989, 1990 and 1991, U14 in 1992 and the first of the three in a row minor titles in 1993.

However, these were frustrating years at senior level losing ~ County Finals but the Junior A championship was won. 1994 was another hectic year for the club.  Athenry’s record of senior, U21 and minor (1987) in one year was broken in 1994 by winning U14, U16, minor, U21 and senior championships.  This record will last a bit longer!

An air of optimism prevailed and hopes of winning the first All Ireland club title were high.  In the All Ireland semi-final against Dunloy victory seemed to be within Athenry’s grasp but a goal in the dying seconds shattered the hopes of Captain Pat Higgins and his team.

In 1995 a second three in arow was achieved by the minors who gave an excellent display in a truly great final against Castlegar winning by 2. 15 to 1. 13 a quarter final loss to Sarsfield’s in the senior championship was a big disappointment but this was only a temporary set-back as the following season was to prove.

1996 was the year Athenry waited for-The senior championship was recaptured and the final v Carmore was played in a packed Kenny Park.  Meanwhile the U14’s, U16’s and Junior C teams also claimed County titles and for good measure the U16’s footballers surprised everybody by winning the A Championship defeating Dunmore, Tuam Stars, An Ceathrú Rua and Corofin in the final.

The seniors were once again on the club championship trail.  Roscommon’s Four Roads were the opponents in the Connacht Final, Athenry winning by 2.15 to 1.8. Next stop was Ruislip where Athenry gave a fine display against St.Gabriels of London.  A much vaunted Camross team from Laois, the Leinster Champions provided the opposition in the All Ireland semi final in Thurles.  Here Athenry gave a wonderful display winning by 4.17 to 3.4. St. Patrick’s Day 1997 was surely Athenry’s greatest day. Before a crowd of 35,000 and live on T.Y our heroes took on the Munster Champions Wolfe Tones of Shannon.  After a hectic struggle Athenry emerged winners by 0.14 to 1.8. Brian Feeney made a rousing speech as the Athenry followers took over Croke Park.  A dream realised – Athenry were All Ireland Hurling Champions.

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About this record

Written by Seam McGovern

Published here 26 Mar 2023 and originally published Easter 1998

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