Fielding just four members of the team that started in the promotion clinching win over Offaly at Pearse Park the previous week - notably Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran, Michael Quinn and Brian Kavanagh - Longford still proved too strong for Carlow in the final round fixture in Division 4 of the National League at Dr Cullen Park on Sunday last.
With nothing at stake, manager Jack Sheedy availed of the opportunity to give other members of the squad a run in preparation for the league final at Croke Park on Saturday April 25th, which is a rematch against Offaly who made the move up to Division 3 next season by virtue of their six points win over Antrim at O’Connor Park in Tullamore on Sunday last.
U-21 players Cian Farrelly, Ross McNerney and Liam Connerton all started against Carlow while another of the promising youngsters, Dessie Reynolds, was brought on during the course of the second half to make his debut for the county seniors and was one of a number of substitutes used.
Reynolds made his mark by getting the Longford goal in the 56th minute, the end result of a well-worked move that was created by Connerton who weaved his way through the Carlow defence before providing the perfect pass into the Sean Connolly’s clubman.
That decisive goal made sure that Longford would go on to register their sixth win on the trot in the National League and thus remain unbeaten in Division 4 with the eagerly awaited title decider to come against Offaly at Croke Park at the end of the month.
Carlow started well when Sean Gannon gathered the ball, drove forward and shot straight for a point. Despite his effort, it was Longford who gradually streaked ahead. Padraig Gill got their opening point on two minutes but it was Carlow who created the first goal opportunity when John Murphy broke free but opted to take a safe point when a riskier hand-pass to Brian Murphy in support might have yielded a goal.
The midlanders made the most of this let-off with Ross McNerney and Brian Kavanagh picking off a string of points between them in the first half. Longford were unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty when Shane Doyle was bundled over and Kavanagh had to settle for a point from a close range free instead.
At one stage, Longford led by six points but with Carlow’s determination not to be overrun, the game turned slightly in favour of the home county. Seven minutes before half-time, John Murphy surged forward. He had options outside him and as the Longford defence hung back in anticipation of an off-load, the big centre-forward shot to the net for a great goal. But Longford replied through Brian Kavanagh and Michael Quinn to lead 0-12 to 1-6 at the break.
Ross McNerney, Kavanagh, Quinn and Liam Connerton all scored points within four minutes of the restart. That burst was as impressive as it was decisive. A seven point lead, even with thirty minutes to go, was formidable.
Sean Gannon then got on the end of a high ball and punched over a point for Carlow. Just as Longford had done at the start of the second half, Carlow did the same at the start of the fourth quarter. Daniel St. Ledger and Ciaran Moran scored a point each from play and Eric McCormack converted two frees.
But a flowing Longford movement found Dessie Reynolds in behind the Carlow cover and the substitute found the back of the net.
In the second half, Carlow keeper Robbie Molloy twice denied Michael Quinn goals with two great stops. There was no way back for the home side after the Reynolds goal and Ross McNerney embellished a fine performance to fire over two frees to see his side consolidate their grip on the game.
CARLOW: Robbie Molloy; Barry John Molloy, Shane Redmond, Kieran Nolan; Mark Fitzgerald, Daniel St. Ledger (0-1), Benny Kavanagh; Sean Gannon (0-2), Darragh Foley (0-1); Alan Kelly (0-1), John Murphy (1-1), Derek Hayden; Ed Finnegan, Brian Murphy (0-1, free), Darragh O’Brien (0-1).
Subs:- Declan Kelly for B Kavanagh (26 mins); Danny Moran for M Fitzgerald (47 mins); Ciaran Moran (0-1) for E Finnegan (47 mins); Eric McCormack (0-2, frees) for Brian Murphy (48 mins); Hugh Gahan for D Foley (48 mins); Michael Meany for John Murphy (65 mins).
LONGFORD: Gareth Higgins (Carrickedmond); Fergal Battrim (Abbeylara), Thomas Gallagher (St Mary’s Granard), Brendan Devine (Clonguish); Aidan Rowan (Cashel), Cian Farrelly (KIlloe Emmet Og), Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers); Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers, 0-1), Conor Quaine (Legan Sarsfields); Shane Doyle (Kenagh), Michael Quinn (Killoe Emmet Og, 0-2), Padraig Gill (Fr Manning Gaels, 0-2); Ross McNerney (Dromard, 0-6, three frees), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 0-6, three frees), Liam Connerton (Rathcline, 0-1).
Subs:- Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon) for B Gilleran (46 mins); Dessie Reynolds (Sean Connolly’s, 1-0) for S Doyle (50 mins); Ronan McEntire (Dromard) for P Gill (53 mins); Barry O’Farrell (Carrickedmond) for D Brady (58 mins); Rory Connor (Kenagh) for A Rowan (black card, 63 mins), Francis McGee (Dromard) for C Quaine (injured, 65 mins).
Referee: James Bermingham (Cork).