Longford suffered a fifth defeat on the trot in Division 2 of the National Football League when they found the going too tough against Derry at Celtic Park on Saturday evening last and as a result are relegated with still two games to play at home to Laois and away to Louth which is a very disappointing outcome for manager Glenn Ryan despite the injury problems and the decision to rest the U-21 players.
After competing well in the previous four fixtures and who were most unlucky not to get something from the games against Wexford, Westmeath, Armagh and Galway, the absence of the injured Paul Barden and the unavailable Brian Kavanagh (currently in New York) is proving to be a serious handicap and without those quality players the attack is really struggling this season.
A notable exception is obviously Sean McCormack whose scoring exploits kept Longford very much in contention for a positive result in the other league matches but the Killoe sharpshooter was really bottled up by the rock solid Derry defence who double marked the dangerman most effectively indeed as he failed to register a score from play.
McCormack managed just a couple of points from frees and it was left to wing forward Bernard McElvaney to provide the main threat on this occasion. Apart from making a few fine catches (which makes you wonder why the Ballymore man is not featuring in his regular role at centrefield), McElvaney fired over three cracking points from play and was clearly the best Longford player at Celtic Park.
Barry Gilleran also figured prominently in holding the defence together, particularly when they were under a lot of pressure in the first quarter of the contest, and for all the possession that the generally dominant Derry side enjoyed just the narrow margin of two points (0-6 to 0-4) separated the sides with 13 minutes of normal time remaining.
Derry were guilty of kicking a total of 14 wides (nine in the first half) in failing to convert their superiority into scores but Longford gradually ran out of steam after working very hard to stay in touch. After substitute Eoin Bradley converted a free in the 57th minute, three more points quickly followed from Daniel Heavron, another Bradley free and James Kielt and that decisive spell settled the issue.
Now trailing by 0-10 to 0-4, Longford hit back with a point from Bernard McElvaney who blasted the ball over the bar in his close attempt to grab a badly needed goal in the 62nd minute but this proved to be nothing more than a consolation score as Derry finished very strongly indeed to open up the tired opposing defence.
Another of their influential substitutes Raymond Wilkinson shot over the bar in the 63rd minute and relentless pressure yielded three more points through Wilkinson, Eoin Bradley and Enda Lynn in the closing stages of the game as Derry ran out easy winners in the end to maintain their challenge for promotion.
Longford were left to reflect on a disappointing defeat and when the news came through that both Laois and Louth won their games against Galway and Armagh respectively the doom and gloom of relegation was confirmed as the midlanders were condemned to an immediate return to Division 3.
Glenn Ryan and his fellow mentors most now focus on getting things right (something they have failed to do this season despite the handicap of the dreaded injury crisis) and their sights are now firmly fixed on the Leinster Championship clash against Wicklow in Aughrim on Sunday May 26th with nothing to play for in the remaining meaningless league fixtures against Laois and Louth.
Ironically, Longford are the only team in the four divisions of the National League this season who have failed to pick up a point and that is a sad fact. Nothing is going their way at the moment and hopefully the luck will change in the match that really matters against Wicklow which they are well capable of winning with the strongest possible side available for selection.
A bout of flu apparently prevented Michael Brady from taking his place at centrefield against Derry and the pack was subsequently reshuffled with Michael Quinn moving to the middle of the park and Fergal Battrim slotting in at centre-half-back. At least there was some good news with Declan Reilly on the starting team for the first time this season in his regular corner-back position after recovering from injury.
As both sides operated the blanket defence system with a lot of players behind the ball, scores were very scarce indeed in a very scrappy first half that was most frustrating to watch and Longford were also guilty of some poor finishing in shooting five wides.
While Derry, with a decisive edge at midfield, were clearly the better team they had to be content with a slender 0-5 to 0-2 lead at the break with three of their scores (one free) coming from prominent attacker James Kielt with Enda Lynn getting their opening point after just 14 seconds of play.
Defender Mark Lynch was also on target for the home county while the two Longford scores in the first half were registered by Sean McCormack (from a free in the 11th minute) and Bernard Mc Elvaney who cut in to create the room to fire over a well struck effort in the 15th minute.
Derry had shot six wides by the 13th minute and their superiority was certainly not reflected on the scoreboard. Having said that, McElvaney tried to weave his way through for a goal chance but lost the ball close to the posts and there was another Longford opportunity when Sean McCormack flicked the ball wide after connecting with a Michael Quinn centre just before the break.
The second half was only a minute old when roving Derry corner-back Gerard O’Kane went racing through to fist the ball over the bar but Longford went on to enjoy their best spell of the game with Bernard McElvaney landing a magnificent point from a very tight angle out on the sideline in the 43rd minute.
Soon after Sean McCormack converted a free to close the gap to just two points and some other chances were squandered, including wides from McCormack (a poor effort) and Francis McGee (long range free), before Derry stepped up another couple of gears to completely control the final quarter in outscoring Longford 0-8 to 0-1 on their way to a comprehensive victory in the finish.
DERRY: Eoin McNicholl; Dermot McBride, Chris McKaigue, Gerard O’Kane (0-1); Charlie Kielt, Mark Lynch (0-1), Sean L McGoldrick; Patsy Bradley, PJ McCloskey; Aidan McAlynn, James Kielt (0-4, one free), Enda Lynn (0-2); Daniel Heavron (0-1), Emmet McGuckin, Lee Kennedy.
Subs:- Eoin Bradley (0-3, two frees) for L Kennedy (24 mins); Raymond Wilkinson (0-2) for E McGuckin (half-time); Michael Bateson for M Lynch (48 mins); Benny Heron for C Kielt (57 mins); Philip Bradley for PJ McCloskey (68 mins).
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Colm P Smyth (Abbeylara), Fergal Battrim (Abbeylara), Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s); Michael Quinn (Killoe Young Emmets), John Keegan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s); Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore, 0-3), Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Aidan Rowan (Cashel); Francis McGee (Dromard), David Barden (Clonguish), Sean McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-2, frees).
Subs:- Peter Foy (Cashel, transferring to Longford Slashers) for D McElligott (half-time); JJ Matthews (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s) for A Rowan (54 mins); John Paul Reilly (Colmcille) for D Barden (58 mins); Shane Doyle (Kenagh) for CP Smyth (68 mins).
Referee: Cathal O’Hagan (Tyrone).