Daniel Hand and Ryan Duffy (pictured) scored in the opening ten minutes but Athlone Town recovered to hold leaders Dundalk to a 2-2 draw at Town Stadium on Sunday afternoon, as the young Lilywhites suffered a setback in their hunt for the DDSL U18 Super League. Dundalk were in full control early on, but after pulling a goal back before the midway point of the first half, Athlone levelled approaching the hour mark. Both sides had chances to win it in the final quarter, with Kurt Murphy forcing a superb save, before Johnny Connolly tipped onto the post.
Despite again being under-strength, Alan Browne’s side started brightly and broke the deadlock after just five minutes when Michael Gray found the feet of Hand, whose shot went off the defender and into the net. For the Cavan-born striker, it was a third goal against Athlone this term, having scored a double in a 2-0 win over them at Oriel Park back in September. With play continuing in the home half, Dundalk deservedly doubled their lead on ten minutes. Jude Carroll supplied Gray down the right and a superb ball into the box again found Hand, who this time laid off to Duffy to smash to the roof of the net.
However, on 18 minutes, Athlone were back in it. A long ball from their ‘keeper went over the Dundalk defence and enticed Connolly off his line, only for an Athlone player to get there first and lob the visiting No1. With their tails up, the hosts went in search of an equaliser, and on 27 minutes they almost got it, as Connolly pulled off a fabulous save following a fine passage of play. Past the half-hour mark, and Athlone were on the attack again, with a long ball from their left-back again beating the backline, but after getting a shot past Connolly they this time found Aidan Sheehy in the way as he got back to clear off the line.
Before the break, Connolly was again called into action as he produced a fine save from a long-range effort. Athlone, though, were level on 56 minutes, when following a scramble in the box, the ball slipped from Connolly’s grasp and the home side tapped in. On the hour mark, Dundalk came back to life with some good link-up play between Seanie Crosbie and Roy Kierans, the latter’s cross finding Hand but he fired over from six-yards. With both teams getting tired, the next chance arrived on 70 minutes when Murphy’s curling shot appeared to be going in but the ‘keeper somehow got a hand to it. Gray then went close, before Athlone almost won it four minutes from time, following a counterattack, but Connolly tipped the 18-yard effort onto the post.
Dundalk Youths play Arklow Town in the Leinster Youth Cup quarter-finals at Oriel Park next Sunday morning, 25 March, kick-off 11am. Admission is free and all support is welcome!
DUNDALK FC: Johnny Connolly, Ryan Duffy, Roy Kierans, Jack Clancy, Aidan Sheehy, Michael Gray, Jude Carroll, Kurt Murphy, Seanie Crosbie, Daniel Hand, Rowan Quinn.
Goals: D Hand (5), R Duffy (10).
Photographs thanks to David Caldwell.