St. Mel's made another disappointing early exit from the Leinster Colleges Senior 'A' Football Championship when they found the going too tough against Athlone Community College and only managed to remain in contention thanks to a couple of gift goals in the closing stages of the first half.
Leinster Colleges Senior 'A' Football Championship First Round
Athlone Community College . . 1 – 11
St. Mel's, Longford . . . . . . . . 2 – 3
The recent bad weather eased for a brief spell in allowing this first round game to go ahead at Pairc Chiarain, Athlone in front of a sparse attendance on Tuesday of last week and St. Mel's were struggling to compete with the stronger opposition who laid the foundations for their eventual victory at centrefield through the powerful pairing of Padraig Corbett and Galway minor James Shaughnessy.
Corbett and Shaughnessy were nearly always in control in providing the rampant Athlone attack with a constant supply of the ball and but for some very poor finishing which resulted in several wides that ran into double figures, the eventual outcome would have been a lot worse for St. Mel's who were extremely fortunate to escape with just a five-point defeat.
Flattered by their win over St. Pat's of Navan in the recent North Leinster League Final which was a big boost nonetheless, two of the key players in that St. Mel's success were missing on this occasion with Longford minor Mark Hughes no longer a student in the Longford college while goalkeeper Colm Farrell is currently out injured.
Killoe sharpshooter Hughes was sorely missed from the St. Mel's attack that struggled to make any impact and 25 minutes were gone in the game before the boys in blue eventually registered their first score, the result of a terrible blunder by the Athlone keeper Mark Keenan who fumbled a shot from Brian Walsh over the line.
That goal came completely against the run of play as the Westmeath school were really dominant in establishing a comfortable 0-5 to 0-0 lead with the points coming from Padraig Corbett, Ollie Milton, a brace from centre-half-forward Emmet Kenny (free and play) with Shane Blackweir also getting his name on the scoresheet.
But after conceding what was basically an own goal, Athlone C.C. were stunned for a while and St. Mel's found the back of the net again in the 28th minute when alert corner-forward Stephen McLoughlin, after latching on to a centre from Morgan Kelly, beat the opposing keeper to the ball in hitting the target from point-blank range.
Remarkably, St. Mel's were now in front (2-0 to 0-5) but Athlone C.C. recovered from this double setback to regain the upper hand with a point apiece from David Brookes and Ray Connellan, the latter converting a free in the third minute of first half stoppage time.
That comeback crucially left the home side leading by the minimum of margins at the break, 0-7 to 2-0, and after replacing their rattled keeper at the start of the second half they had a lucky escape with only a minute gone on the changeover when a Morgan Kelly goal attempt for St. Mel's was blocked down.
Athlone C.C. Went on to extend their advantage with a brace of scores from frees converted by Emmet Kenny and St. Mel's had to wait until the 44th minute for their opening point of the game when Ciaran Farrell shot over the bar.
Thus there was still a glimmer of hope for Jimmy Gacquin's charges but the killer blow was finally struck in the 47th minute when Athlone's chief marksman Kenny made no mistake from a sweetly struck penalty that was awarded for a definite foul on David Brookes who was weaving his way through for a clear-cut goal chance.
St. Mel's were now five points adrift (1-9 to 2-1) but to their credit they battled it out to the bitter end and after Morgan Kelly had another goal attempt blocked some other chances were squandered including a few frees.
Midfielder Andrew Dalton did succeed in closing the gap when converting a free from 40 yards out and the same player then hit the upright before Athlone C.C. Added another couple of points to their tally through Shane Blackweir and Emmet Kenny to clinch their place in the next round.
St. Mel's grabbed a late consolation score when Daniel Mimnagh fired over a free in the second minute of stoppage time and with no 'back door' this season the Leinster Championship campaign is over for the former kingpins of colleges football. How times have changed!
ATHLONE CC: Mark Keenan; Jack Donohue, Joe Woods, Evan Kelly; Brian Shaughnessy, Conor Daly, Conal Sheerin; Padraig Corbett (0-1), James Shaughnessy; Ollie Milton (0-1), Emmet Kenny (1-5, goal from penalty, three points from frees), David Brookes (0-1); Shane Blackweir (0-2), Ray Connellan (0-1, free), Mossy Ryan.
Subs:- Daire Cunniffe for M Ryan (30 mins); Dermot Donnelly for M Keenan (half-time); Gavin Warde for D Cunniffe (51 mins); Christian Hermbusche for E Kelly (51 mins).
ST. MEL'S: Stephen Farrell (Ardagh); Shane O'Connell, David Lennon (Killoe), Emmet Clarke (Young Grattans); David Mahon (Kilglass Gaels), Conor Clarke (Longford Slashers), Karl Murray (Young Grattans); Andrew Dalton (Longford Slashers, 0-1, free), Ciaran Casserly (St. Barry's, Tarmonbarry); Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe, 0-1, free), Morgan Kelly (Longford Slashers), Ciaran Farrell (Longford Slashers, 0-1); Stephen McLoughlin (Clonguish, 1-0), Brian Walsh (Longford Slashers, 1-0), Ronan McGowan (St. Barry's, Tarmonbarry).
Sub:- Aaron Madden (Rathcline) for R. McGowan (24 mins).
Referee: Damien Brazil (Offaly).
Longford minor Conor Clarke pictured in action for St. Mel's College.