After letting a commanding nine-point lead slip from their grasp in the slender defeat away to Wexford the previous week, Longford suffered another setback in their quest to survive in Division 2 of the National Football League when they lost out to neighbouring rivals Westmeath at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday last and many missed chances in the second half cost them very dearly indeed.
A cracking goal from chief marksman Sean McCormack in the 27th minute of the first half had left Longford leading by 1-4 to 0-4 at the break but the erratic attack (sorely missing Brian Kavanagh and the Barden brothers Paul and David) struggled badly for the vital scores thereafter and generally pressed the self destruct button in kicking no less than nine wides on the changeover.
Six of those opportunities (four frees) were squandered by McCormack and without the driving force of Paul Barden, in particular, the home county are currently depending far too heavily on the Killoe sharpshooter who clocked up a total of 1-7 (five frees) on this occasion with the other score coming from Robbie Smyth in the first half.
Both sides were guilty of making several silly mistakes in an error ridden local derby and Westmeath scored two decisive goals in the second half through Kieran Martin (45th minute) and Dessie Dolan (55th minute) to clinch a somewhat fortunate win. Pat Flanagan’s outfit are now at the top of the Division 2 table whereas pointless Longford are down at the bottom and in serious danger of relegation even at this early stage of the league campaign.
Next up for Glenn Ryan’s under pressure side is a very difficult task away to Armagh on Saturday March 2nd with the remaining fixtures at home to Galway (March 10th), away to Derry (March 16th), home to Laois (March 24th) and away to Louth (April 7th) and the players do not need to be told that they are now facing a real uphill battle to avoid an immediate return to Division 3.
Also ruled out through injury at the moment are other regulars Declan Reilly, Colm P Smyth and Niall Mulligan and hopefully the Longford management team will be in a position to field a stronger side against Armagh when the National League resumes after a three-week break.
A disappointing crowd in the region of 800 gathered in the miserable cold and wet conditions at Pearse Park on Sunday last to watch the action unfold and a combination of the bad weather and a clash with the big Six Nations Rugby International between Ireland and England clearly had an adverse effect on the attendance.
While Westmeath had the better of the early exchanges, they missed a few decent chances and it was Longford who hit the front with a brace of points from frees converted by Sean McCormack in the 10th and 13th minutes.
The visitors eventually opened their account with an excellent long range strike from Callum McCormack in the 14th minute and further Westmeath points followed from midfielders Denis Corroon (play) and John Heslin (free) before Robbie Smyth kicked a fine score for Longford to level matters in the 23rd minute.
Westmeath quickly regained the lead with another score from Callum McCormack but it was Longford who finished the first half the stronger – inspired by a top class goal from Sean McCormack who cut in from the left wing before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the corner of the net from a tight angle.
McCormack then fired over a free to extend the advantage (1-4 to 0-4) and while that was the way it remained until half-time Longford had another goal chance just before the break when a Francis McGee strike was blocked by apparently one of his team members, Kevin Diffley, in a tangle right in front of the posts.
After kicking five wides to Longford’s three in the first half, Westmeath made very good use of the scoring chances that came their way in the second half as they outscored their opponents 2-3 to 0-4 to eventually emerge victorious in a tight contest played in extremely difficult wet conditions.
In fact, the visitors did not register a single wide on the changeover and went very close to scoring a goal in the early stages of the second half when a flick on from Kieran Martin was cleared off the line by the alert Barry Gilleran.
But Martin did find the back of the Longford net in the 45th minute when he made no mistake from close range after receiving the perfect pass from the generally impressive Ger Egan and thus the sides were all square again, 1-4 to 1-4.
However, Longford showed great character in hitting back with a brace of points (free and play) in quick succession from Sean McCormack and the second was a glorious strike from near the sideline in the 54th minute after he received the ball from Bernard Mc Elvaney who played particularly well in a new role at wing forward.
But after producing a very commanding performance in the full-back-line, Barry Gilleran then suffered the misfortune of making a costly mistake when he let the ball slip from his grasp in fumbling a high Westmeath centre, that after Longford midfielder Michael Brady was fouled and a free should have been awarded to the home side. Callum McCormack pounced to put the unmarked Dessie Dolan clean through for a killer goal in the 55th minute but up until then the former All-Star was very quiet in the face of fierce resistance from his marker Dermot Brady.
Longford were now reeling on the ropes as Westmeath extended their lead (2-6 to 1-6) with John Heslin firing over a couple of frees in the space of a minute but they were hanging on in the end as the never-say-die home side staged a determined late rally.
Three good chances were missed by Robbie Smyth, Francis McGee and Sean McCormack before McCormack landed a well struck point from play in the 63rd minute and the Longford squandermania continued until McCormack converted a free in the 69th minute to leave just the minimum of margins separating the sides, 2-6 to 1-8.
Sean McCormack then had the opportunity to land the equalising point but his difficult long range free drifted wide and Westmeath (one of whose selectors is former Ardagh and Longford footballer Philip Kiernan) made sure of the win when John Heslin slotted over a close range free in stoppage time to the sound of the final whistle.
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Peter Foy (Cashel); Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon), Michael Quinn (Killoe Young Emmets), Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s); John Keegan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Michael Brady (Longford Slashers); Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore), Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Padraig McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets); Francis McGee (Dromard), Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 0-1), Sean McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 1-7, five frees).
Sub:- Paul Kelly (Longford Slashers) for P McCormack (58 mins).
WESTMEATH: Gary Connaughton; Mark McCallion, Kieran Gavin, Kevin McGuire; Michael Curley, Paul Sharry, James Dolan; Denis Corroon (0-1), John Heslin (0-4, all frees); Kieran Martin (1-0), Callum McCormack (0-2), Ger Egan; Ronan Foley, Denis Glennon, Dessie Dolan (1-0).
Subs:- Paul Bannon for R Foley (54 mins); Darragh Daly for D Corroon (58 mins); Damien Dolan for K Martin (65 mins).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).