Park had serious momentum going into this top of the table clash, having trumped Athletic by a 5-1 scoreline in Tralee, as well as having the benefit of a 5-2 home victory over Asdee last week.
However, Athletic were buoyed up too, after edging out local rivals Celtic by the odd goal in three in their last outing. The stage was set then for a rip-roaring encounter with both teams sharing top spot on 6 points and with Athletic’s Woodlawn pitch in tip-top condition on a beautiful morning for football.
Park again lined out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with fit-again Gary Howard returning to midfield and Joel Vesey starting on the right. However, it was Athletic who were the more forceful side early on and it took some fine saves from skipper, Killian Moran to keep the Tralee lads in the game.
Gradually, Park began to settle and with Kevan Foley rock-solid at the back, with good support from Evan Doody and Ciaran Hattar, they started to get a foothold in the game. Howard was making his presence felt with his trademark strong tackling and this was complimented by the accurate passing of his midfield partner, Keelan Pierse.
Ironically, it was a solid challenge from Pierse, followed by a clinical through ball to Donagh O’Brien that led to Park’s opener. The striker was on to the pass in a flash and although Athletic’s keeper, Patrick Wrenn just got to the ball first, O’Brien’s pressure saw the netminder’s clearance ricochet off the centre forward and into the back of the net.
Park were in the ascendancy now and O’Brien was soon through again but this time Wrenn won the duel with a fine save at the expense of a corner. Athletic,to their credit, were not prepared to give up the fight and they came storming back into the match.
After a series of attacks, they got a deserved equaliser after 34 minutes when Park were unable to clear their lines and were punished with a fine strike from 18 yards that gave Moran no chance as it flew under the crossbar. Well, they say that every team needs a little luck and Park were soon back in front when Doody’s long range free kick went all the way to the net a minute later. At that stage, Park introduced Sean Tansley into midfield with Aaron Shanahan coming in on the wing and they held their 2-1 advantage into the half time break.
It was imperative that Park held their advantage for the 3rd quarter, but this time lady luck smiled on Athletic as they scored after three minutes when a corner was deflected into Park’s net at the near post and now it was game on. The Tralee side introduced Nathan O’Leary into midfield where his passing skills soon restored Park’s advantage in the possession stakes.
With Tomás Leen overlapping down the right, Shane McGinley turning in a man of the match performance and Eamonn Sheehy once again giving an exhibition of classy footwork, Park were now back in control of the game. Still, Athletic were not going to fold and despite their dominance, Park were finding it hard to create clear-cut chances, so it was time for a last throw of the dice and Joe Griffin was introduced at centre half, allowing Doody to push into midfield.
This gave the Tralee lads even more imputus and after Shanahan forced another corner, McGinley’s pinpoint delivery was met by Griffin’s firm header and the ball crossed the line despite Wrenn’s brave attempt to keep it out. Athletic had to push forward now, but Park switched to 4-4-2 with Mark Nolan brought into the attack and with Griffin and Hattar now in control of the defence, there was no way back for the home side. Park now lead the table by three points from Athletic, having played the same number of games. Asdee are also three points adrift but have a game in hand on Park – so all to play for!
Park: Moran, Leen, Foley, Hattar, Doody, Howard, Pierse, Vesey, Sheehy, McGinley, O’Brien, Tansley, Shanahan, O’Leary, Griffin, Nolan, Dillon O’Connor, Wale Yusuf, Cormac Hurley.