The tag of favouritism is not one Longford carry frequently or easily. Perhaps there is change in the wind. Yesterday, after a tentative opening period when too much time was spent admiring the splendid skills of the opposition’s full-forward Niall McNamee, Longford stirred to life and – when the chips were down – produced a high-tempo performance that earned them a first championship win over Offaly since 1965.
Suddenly, the pessimism that followed a dismal league campaign has been replaced by optimism that the championship journey can linger well into the summer. Nothing like a good day out to change the mood of an entire county.
Next up is a home quarter-final against Wexford on June 7th or 8th. Before that, Longford can reflect on a job well done, knowing they have forwards capable of scoring if given the chance.
For much of the first half, as McNamee – who would end up with a personal tally of seven points – turned in something of a masterclass, there were times that Longford appeared to be holding on for dear life.
Offaly, who won a tremendous amount of possession, looked to be in control in virtually every sector of the field. Peter Cunningham and Graham Guilfoyle
were lively but, time and time again, the go-to man was McNamee who invariably twisted one way or another and routinely found his target.
Where did the match turn? Ironically, Longford’s kick up the backside came in the space of two first-half minutes out of two chances that yielded nothing. Longford trailed 0-4 to 0-8 as the clock ticked into the 25th minute. It was then that Paul Barden found himself through, one-on-one, with Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall and, when his mishit first shot was saved, he seemed to have redeemed himself when firing his second effort to the net. However, referee Martin Higgins consulted his umpires and ruled the goal out. Mulhall, he judged, had his hand on the ball when Barden got his boot to it.
Within a minute Barden was clean through again but this time his effort flew wide. Those two missed goal chances seemed to galvanise Longford rather than affect their confidence, and there were only two points between the sides, 0-8 to 0-10, at the interval. When Longford returned to the fray, they meant business. That intent was harnessed into some fine, attacking football that had Offaly unable to get their hands on the ball for long periods.
Longford’s Michael Quinn asserted his presence around the middle of the field and Francis McGee had a massive impact, winning ball and orchestrating attacks. Barden continued to work hard and came in with two points that smacked of an experienced head doing the right things at the right times.
Longford’s half-time deficit of two points didn’t last long. Within five minutes, points from Sean McCormack and Brian Kavanagh had them level and, another minute later, Kavanagh edged them ahead.
Another fabulous Mulhall save from Barden spurred Longford on again with five successive home points transforming the game. There was to be no fightback from Offaly, the visitors’ hopes all but extinguished when full-back David Hanlon was given a red card late in the game.
Afterwards Jack Sheedy wasn’t getting carried away but knows that with a home match against Wexford next, Longford have a provincial semi-final in their sights.
“Wexford is a huge challenge . . . We are not naïve. We have to have a lot of guys playing well, working very hard. Hopefully we can perform on the day,” said Sheedy.
Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell said: “Their experienced forwards hurt us . . . they have a lot of experience up front and that probably told in the end.”
1 D Sheridan; 2 D Brady, 17 B O’Farrell, 4 Fergal Battrim; 5 C Smyth, 6 E Williams, 7 S Mulligan (0-1); 8 J Keegan, 9 S Doyle ; 10 M Quinn (0-1), 11 F McGee (0-3), 12 P Barden (0-2); 13 M Hughes (0-2), 14 B Kavanagh (0-3), 15 S McCormack (0-7, 0-5 frees). Subs: P Foy for Doyle (53 mins), M Brady for Keegan (57 mins), A Rowan for Hughes (60 mins).
OFFALY: 1 A Mulhall; 2 D Brady, 3 D Hanlon, 4 Niall Darby; 5 B Darby, 6 J Moloney, 7 M Brazil; 8 R Allen (0-1), 9 N Smith; 10 E Carroll, 11 G Guilfoyle (0-2), 12 A Sullivan; 13 J Maher (0-2), 14 N McNamee (0-7, 0-3 frees), 15 P Cunningham (0-2). Subs: N Geraghty for Allen (45mins), C Hurley (0-1) for Guilfoyle (59 mins), P McPadden for Maher (63 mins).
Referee: Martin Higgins (Fermanagh).