This past Friday Kerry were on the road once again for the third time in two weeks when they took on Athlone Town. The last time these two faced each other was on Game week six when Athlone went out narrow 1-0 winners thanks to an 86th minute-winner from Valerii Dolia. Kerry were very unlucky in that game and the draw would have been a great result on the night, but it was not meant to be. This time around they will want to put it right but have a tough task ahead of them.
Athlone headed into the game in fourth position well and truly in the hunt for those playoff places. Although they lost to Treaty United last weekend they will be hoping to get back on track at the expense of Kerry FC. The visitors traveled to Athlone off the back of a tough game against Longford last Friday which they narrowly lost 3-2. If Kerry could show the fight and attacking threat they showed last week in the second half, it would be no walk in the park for Athlone. One thing that Kerry has struggled with this season is consistency and taking good performances into the next week’s game.
Talking to the press before this game Kerry FC manager, Billy Dennehy talked about the last meeting between the two and how he would have been disappointed coming out with just a draw. He also felt that after that second-half performance last week that the boys would be “raring to go” ahead of the clash with Athlone, in the hope of gaining more points on the board.
The half started with intense pressure from the home side. Frantz Pierrot went on a fantastic run from the halfway line and beat two players. He crossed it into the back post and a shot from Adam Lennon was cleared off the line by Samuel Aladesanusi. This pressure continued until the fifteenth minute when Kerry took the lead in superb fashion. A clearance from the Town was headed back by Togor Silong, and the ball down was sublimely controlled by in-form striker Ryan Kelliher, who turned straight after his first touch and let fly from twenty-five yards out. The strike sailed over Vladislav Velinkin in the Athlone net and made it 1-0 to the Kingdom.
Even though Kerry took the lead, Athlone maintained the pressure and targeted the wings to create opportunities. Some great crosses were put in, but they were either missed by the attackers or collected by 19-year-old debutant goalkeeper Aaron O’Sullivan who was excellent on the night.
Just seven minutes after taking the lead, Kerry put themselves in dreamland. Nathan Gleeson found space in the Athlone half and ran at the defence, after a few touches he looked up and hit one again like the previous goal from about twenty-five yards out. The shot took the slightest of deflections and was enough to go over the head of Velinkin again. It was the first time this season that Kerry led a game by two goals.
Still, with the pressure from Athlone, it would be tough to go in at halftime, leading by two goals, but Kerry knew if they did, it could be a historic night for the team. The pressure was building, and it only seemed like a matter of time before they got one back. Valeriy Dolya picked up the ball about twenty yards out and dribbled past two Kerry defenders, but his well-taken shot was saved with ease by O’Sullivan.
Just nine minutes before halftime, Kerry cracked. A throw on the right-hand side for Athlone was given to Dolya who hit it low and hard. Frantz Pierrot got a slight touch which took the ball just past O’Sullivan.
Athlone started the second half as they finished. Still piling pressure on the Kerry team, but the Kingdom dealt with the pressure well and the crosses were headed away every time by the centre-back pair of Kevin Williams and Samuel Aladesanusi. They did, however, hit the crossbar twice in thirty seconds, giving Kerry a huge sigh of relief. A long shot from Haji Abdikadir tested Aaron O’Sullivan, but once again he parried it away in calm fashion.
Another chance came the way of the hosts, Frantz Pierrot controlled a pass that seemed to get away from him, he twisted and turned to get the shot off and his powerful effort went straight into the side netting.
Then came the moment Kerry had been dreading. A low cross inside the box by Patrick Hickey was cut back to Valeriy Dolya and he slotted the ball into the back of the net with pure ease to put the home side level and hopeful of a late winner.
A winner would come, but not in Athlone’s favor. A breakaway started by Leo Gaxha out the right wing was crossed into the space in the box. Sean McGrath miss hit his effort and was cleared away. Only as far as that man again Ryan Kelliher who shot only four yards out. Even
though the ball looked to be cleared and waved on by the referee David Connoly. It was judged to have crossed the line by the linesman on the far side of the pitch sending the Kerry boys into ecstasy. A brilliant call by the assistant which in later photos proved to be correct.
Kerry had to hold on intensely for four minutes of added time and as you can imagine when that final whistle blew. The relief of every Kerry man in Athlone and watching at home was astounding. Kerry FC finally picked up their historic first win in the senior league of Ireland Football. Every man on the pitch and in the dugout should be proud of the performance on display, as they dug deep to keep Athlone at bay. In the minds of the squad and coaches alike, the season starts now, and they will hope to get another win next Friday as they return to Mounthawk park to face Bray Wanderers.
Kerry FC Team:
30. Aaron O’sullivan, 2. Rob Vasiu, 18. Samuel Aladesanusi, 15. Kevin Williams (C), 23. Ronan Teahen, 17. Nathan
Gleeson (Goal ’22), 22. Cian Barrett, 13. Togor Silong, 10. Leo Gaxha, 9. Ryan Kelliher (Goal ’15,’70), 7. Sean McGrath.
Subs: Richie Healy, Stephen McCarthy, Matt Keane, Alex Ainscough, Cianan Cooney, Graham O’reilly, Kennedy Amechi.
Athlone Town Team:
30. Vladislav Velkin, 2. German Fuentes Rodriguez, 3. Jack Kavanagh (46’ Blake Ryan), 6. Patrick Hickey, 7. Adam Lennon (81’ Matthew McCarrick), 8. Aaron Connolly (C), 9. Frantz Pierrot (Goal ’36), 10. Valerii Dolia (Goal ’68), 15. Haji Abdikadir, 19. Aaron McBride, 20. Jamar Campion-Hinds.