Second half goals from substitute Sean Geurin and Tommy Barratt were enough to secure three points for Athlone Town on the opening night of the 2012 season, despite a late come back from SD Galway that saw Enda Curran score and get sent off within the final minutes of the game.
It was Athlone who started the stronger of the two sides, dominating the opening stages against an SD Galway side whose nerves were not helped by a treacherous surface. Tommy Barrett’s effort from close range was headed clear by Nicky Curran just two minutes in and debutant full back Ross Kenny headed narrowly wide from a corner on seven minutes.
SD Galway slowly played their way in to the game with Michael ‘Mixie’ Harty causing problems on the right and Mike Tierney finding striker Enda Curran with some finely judged through balls.
But it was Athlone who came closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening half with Sherlock poking wide on 24 minutes having intercepted a back pass from Willie Enubele, and Jason Hughes sending a ferocious 25 yard shot whistling just pats the Galway upright.
Four minutes before half time Athlone striker Noel McGee came even closer, connecting with a first time effort from the edge of the Galway box that would have snuck just inside the far post but for Liam Grant’s full length, fingertip save.
At half time Athlone manager Mike Kerley replaced the injured Sherlock with teenager Sean Geurin and the home side didn’t take long to turn their increased tempo into clear chances. Just eight minutes after the re-start they had forced a penalty, Brain Geraghty handling inside the box, though McGee’s effort from the spot was superbly saved by Liam Grant.
Two minutes later Enubele was booked for a body check on Kevin Williamson as the Athlone winger threatened to surge past into unguarded space, and two minutes after that Geurin planted a diving header from Garvan Broughall’s free kick past the helpless Grant to deservedly open the scoring.
With an hour gone Athlone were firmly in charge, McGee leading the line with aplomb and threatening to open up the visitors every time he received the ball. But there were signs of frailty too, Enda Curran spinning two reverse passes through Athlone’s defence for Tierney to run onto. The uneven surface spoiled Tierney’s first opportunity and he miscued his shot over Brian Collopy’s crossbar, while the linesman’s flag foiled his second.
With 11 minutes to go Athlone appeared to have settled the tie, Tommy Barratt nudging the ball home after a goalmouth scramble, but Tony Mannion’s side weren’t quite ready to concede the points. With just three minutes to play Enda Curran lined up a free kick some 30 yards out and, astonishingly, drove the ball through an ill-prepared wall and past a static Collopy.
Three minutes later and Curran was headed for the dressing rooms after a foul on Brian McCarthy earned him his second yellow card, but the visitors might still have snatched a point when Paddy Quinlan headed Harty’s corner inches wide of the near post.
Mike Kerley will no doubt be delighted that his Athlone side have started their campaign with three points but there will be frustration too that such a superior performance was threatened by a lack of resolve in the final minutes. For Tony mannion there will be some comfort that SD Galway look, at least, a better proposition than they did last year.
Athlone Town: Brian Collopy; Joe Woods, Brian McCarthy, Tommy Barrett, Ross Kenny; Garvan Broughall, Mark Walsh, Jason Hughes, Kevin Williamson; Mark Sherlock (Sean Geurin, 46), Noel McGee.
Subs not used: Scott Gaynor, Ian Dempsey, Darren Coleman, Niall Scullion, Brian Gill, Roy King.
Bookings: Woods (74), Kenny (92).
SD Galway: Liam Grant; Nicky Curran, Brian Geraghty, Paddy Quinlan, Tommy Bradshaw; Michael Harty, Luke McConnell, Mike Tierney, Willie Enubele (Ronan Conlon, 78), Brian Gaffney (Charlie Burke, 85); Mike Tierney, Enda Curran.
Subs not used: Ronan Burke, Eric Browne, Cian Fadden, Eric Holland,Gerry Dolan.
Bookings: E Curran (48), Enubele (55).
Sendings Off: E Curran (90).
Referee: Conor Fitzgerald.
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Noel McGee (Athlone Town).