View Full Version : Menacing Hughes gives new boss perfect start at St Mel’s

09/08/2003, 8:44 AM
Eircom League Division One

Athlone Town 2, Kildare County 3

ERIC Hannigan had a dream start to his Kildare County managerial career when the Station Road side comfortably overcame Athlone 3-2 in St Mel’s Park last Friday evening.

Despite the presence of the new boss, it was very much the way things were with Hannigan only making one (enforced) change to the team that took to the field for Dermot Keely’s last game. That change saw Danny O’Leary replace Wayne Russell in goal after Russell had headed north during the week to follow Keely.

Kildare almost took the lead within the first minute when a long-range Barry O’Connor effort forced an instinctive save from Connaughton in the Athlone Town goal.

Keely’s last signing Marc Kenny was having a sizeable impact on the early stages of the game and he was the next man to test Connaughton in the 16th minute. He showed some tidy footwork on the edge of the box before playing a neat one-two with Ray Scully. As the ball fell nicely for him, Kenny hit a dipping shot from the edge of the box but Connaughton did well to tip the ball over the bar.

In these early stages, Kildare were well on top and Gareth Cronin was next to try his luck from long range, following good work by Barry O’Connor and Philip Hughes but his shot flew high and wide.

The first half continued on in this vein, with Kildare well on top but being restricted to mainly long-range efforts until they made the breakthrough with four minutes left in the half. Again, the lively Philip Hughes won a ball that he had no right to. His cross found Barry O’Connor, who skipped past Harney but his shot was well saved by Connaughton. Luckily for Kildare, the ball fell perfectly for Alan McNevin and he tapped the ball home.

The goal will have been particularly sweet for McNevin as he was on the receiving end of some abuse from the home fans as he returned to one of his old stomping grounds.

The second half began in much the same vein as the first with Kildare well on top. Hughes went close when a 25-yard lob beat Connaughton but dropped just wide of the post.

Athlone had their first moment of attacking potential in the 53rd minute when only Gareth Cronin stood between Martin Reilly and the goal but Cronin made an excellent tackle and the Kildare defence got back to cover.

Both O’Connor and Hughes had tested Connaughton before Kildare doubled their lead in the 62nd minute. Kenny hit a deep corner that evaded everybody apart from Barry O’Connor, he headed the ball back across the goal and Hughes was on hand to head home from little more than a yard out.

This should have been the signal for Kildare to shut up shop and see out the game but they have a habit of making things hard for themselves. Within seven minutes of Kildare doubling their lead, Athlone were back in the game. Harney’s long ball forward split the Kildare defence and Rush was able to lob O’Leary delightfully as he rushed out of his goal.

The last ten minutes of the game saw a flurry of action. Shay Zeller saw a 40-yard effort blocked on the line by Stephen Kelly following a poor Connaughton clearance while a Martin Reilly effort was ruled out by the linesman due to offside.

Kildare finished the game as a contest with eight minutes left in the game. Gareth Cronin played a huge ball forward over the Athlone defence, as Connaughton hesitated Barry O’Connor tried to nip in ahead of him but he was impeded by Kelly and a penalty was awarded. After a slight delay, Hughes despatched the penalty with the minimum of fuss.

Athlone pulled another goal back in injury time when Ben Whelehan headed a Stuart Holt free kick into his own net but there was still time for Shay Zeller to go agonisingly close before the final whistle.

Gareth Cronin was very impressive for Kildare while the quick distribution of prodigal son Danny O’Leary started many attacks. Barry O’Connor had a hand in each of Kildare’s three goals but the man of the match has to go to Philip Hughes. He scored twice but was also an absolute menace to the Athlone defence for the entire game.

After the game new Kildare manager Eric Hannigan spoke of his delight at the result. “Obviously, I am delighted to have got the three points but I felt that we made it very hard for ourselves. We played the better football of the two teams and the late own goal puts a different perspective on the scoreline,” he said.

Hannigan spoke of his busy week getting to know the Kildare team. “It was hard coming into this game having such little time to get to know the players so to get the three points was great. We have a tough game to look forward to next week (against Dublin City) but at least I will have another week to get to know the players.”

Kildare County: O’Leary, Brennan, Cronin, Whelehan, R Kenny, M Kenny (Rogers 77), Scully, McNevin (Zeller 65), Hughes, B O’Connor, Kelly.

Athlone Town: Connaughton, O’Brien, Kelly, Harney (Holt 76), Frawley, Collins, Rush, McCann (Mullen 69), Reilly (Nibbs 89), Kelly, Gavin.