Friday night saw Kerry FC return to the scene of the best night in the senior team’s brief history. Kerry FC were on the road again this week as they faced Athlone Town in The Town stadium. You need to think all the way back to the twelfth of May when Kerry FC got their first-ever Senior League of Ireland first-division win against Athlone in what was truly the biggest night the Kingdom side had been a part of since the team was formed in November 2022. Two goals from Ryan Kelliher and one from Nathan Gleeson ensured they put their names in Kerry FC folklore forever.
Last week Kerry earned themselves a hard-earned point at home to Longford Town where it ended 0-0. A battle that finished in a fair result, with neither team doing enough to dominate the entirety of the game. Goalkeeper Lee Axworthy put in a great shift making a few vital saves to keep the Kingdom in it. Axworthy has done a fantastic job since coming in and even though he is number 32, he has proved himself and Kerry’s out-and-out number 1.
Coming into the fixture Kerry FC manager Billy Dennehy hailed the team’s performance from last Friday saying, “It was a very mature performance, and the boys looked like they have been playing in the league for the past two or three years.” Like Dennehy, the travelling support came into Friday’s fixture with the hope of a similar standard in the performance.
It was Athlone who had the dream start. They controlled the possession for the opening five minutes, and it culminated in an opening goal for talisman striker Frantz Pierrot. A low cross across the six-yard box which had been used quite a bit in the opening stages fell perfectly for Pierrot, who finished off the opportunity to give the home side the lead. Pierrot had another chance only five minutes later, but he dragged his shot wide from close range.
Kerry found it hard early on to get a real foot hold of the game, when they did get a few passes going they created great space in dangerous areas. A lovely bit of work down the right side from Ryan Kelliher and Daniel Okwute saw Okwute free himself up for a shot. Unfortunately, his touch let him down on that occasion and Athlone were able to clear away the danger.
Athlone came close to doubling their lead when a similar cross to the goal along the six-yard box was thankfully met this time by Kevin Williams who dealt with the situation.
As mentioned before in-form goalkeeper Lee Axworthy was called into action on the half hour mark. A long-range Dylan Gavin effort was put over the crossbar by Axworthy and would help the team massively as Kerry would get their equaliser just four minutes later.
A decent bit of hold up play from Sean McGrath gave himself the chance to pass the ball to Leo Gaxha who was out far by the wing. Gaxha made his way in beating three men and took the effort on from twenty-five yards out and the shot went in off the post to give life into the Kingdom just before halftime. Gaxha has shown he has a bit of a knack for wonder goals this season.
Despite the breathing space of an equaliser, Lee came under pressure again with another shot from outside the area, yet again he came to his side’s aid and dealt with the oncoming traffic. Just before half time, Ryan Kelliher had a free kick from distance that hit the target, although it was collected easily by Enda Minogue.
After the second half resumed, Athlone had much of the possession and started to dominate the game. A free kick from Valeri Dolia just five minutes into the half from outside the area went over the crossbar and did not trouble Axworthy in goal.
Kerry had instances in the half where they looked to cause problems. Kevin Williams had a glancing header dragged wide after a superb cross from Sean O’Connell put it into a fantastic area.
With twenty-five minutes left on the clock Kerry had a very well-worked move nearly result in a big chance. A kick out from Axworthy was flicked on the volley by Gaxha which reached the path of Daniel Okwute on the left wing. Okwute took on his marker and crossed the ball into a good area. Unfortunately, it was collected again by Enda Minogue.
Athlone started to pile on the pressure with twenty minutes remaining. First Dolia had a shot drag wide from outside the area. Then Kennedy Amechi was called into defensive duty to block a close range shot from Frantz Pierrot. All the chances started to get on top of Kerry and eventually Athlone reclaimed their lead.
A strong volley across the area from Valeri Dolia was hard to deal with from the Kerry defence and Dylan Gavin was there to finish off a golden opportunity into the far post.
In the dying moments of the game Kennedy Amechi worked well down the right wing to free himself up and give a cross into the box. Again, unfortunately there was no one there and Minogue claimed it. A real battle of the keepers on the night where Athlone’s came out on top as the home side went away 2-1 winners.
Kerry did brilliantly to go in at half time level but did not do enough in the second half to put the Town under any serious pressure. The defence seemed a lot more solid, but the forwards could not capitalise on the great platform that was set up by their men at the back.
The Kingdom are back home next Friday as they host league leaders Galway United, in a game that could see Galway crowned as League of Ireland first division champions.
Kerry FC Team: 32. Lee Axworthy, 3. Sean O’Connell, 5. Ethan Kos, 18. Samuel Aladesanusi, 15. Kevin Williams, 11. Sean Kennedy, 23. Ronan Teahan, 10. Leo Gaxha (C) (Goal ’36), 7. Sean McGrath, 9. Ryan Kelliher, 21. Daniel Okwute.
Subs: Arthur Nganou, Rob Vasiu, Alex Ainscough, Cian Barrett, Togor Soling, Cian Brosnan, Cianan Cooney, Kennedy Amechi.
Athlone Town Team: 1. Enda Minogue, 2. German Fuentes Rodriguez, 3. Jack Kavanagh, 4. Noah Van Geenan, 5. Daniel Mckenna, 6. Patrick Hickey, 9. Frantz Pierrot (Goal ‘5), 10. Valerii Dolia, 11. Dylan Gavin (Goal ’76), 18. Oisin Duffy (C), 20. Jamar Campion-hinds.
Subs: Shaun O’donnell, Shane Forbes, Nazar Zubkov, Josh McGlone, Matthew Leal, Donal Curtin, Matthew Baker, Michael Peprah, Nehemie Lamtoukou