Producing a very high work rate throughout the game, Longford eventually pipped Westmeath by a solitary point to earn a crack at Laois in the Leinster Under 21 Football Championship quarter-final at O’Moore Park this Wednesday night.
It was no more than Jack Sheedy’s side deserved for their honest endeavour in extremely difficult wet and windy conditions with full-forward Robbie Smyth very much the matchwinner in a very scrappy first round replay at the St. Loman’s GFC grounds, Mullingar on Wednesday night of last week.
Abbeylara sharpshooter Smyth figured most prominently in firing over a total of six points (four frees) with midfielder Barry McKeon landing the winning score in the 57th minute but it would probably have been a different story only for a great save by Longford keeper Gareth Higgins on the stroke of half-time.
Westmeath were leading by 0-5 to 0-3 at that stage and looked certain to extend that advantage when Dean McNicholas, after receiving the ball from Ger Leech, was left with only Higgins to beat but the Carrickedmond netminder came to the rescue in producing a point-blank stop to prevent a certain goal.
That was a very lucky escape for Longford, who had played against the strong wind in the first half and were restricted to just three scores - a brace of frees converted by Robbie Smyth (4th and 26th minutes) while Rory Connor weaved his way through for a fine point in the 20th minute.
On target for Westmeath were Ray Connellan (two frees), defender Jack Donoghue, midfielder Dean McNicholas and Shane Dempsey (free) and both sides were guilty of some poor finishing in the first half after kicking five wides apiece.
The away supporters among the attendance of around 600 had plenty to shout about in the early stages of the second half as wind assisted Longford, getting a grip at centrefield through the fine efforts of James McGivney and Barry McKeon, had hit the front by the 40th minute.
Robbie Smyth registered three points, two good efforts from play along with a free, with Lorcan Dolan shooting over the bar for Westmeath and the sides were all square (0-6 to 0-6) before Longford took the lead in controversial circumstances.
James McGivney appeared to have landed Longford’s seventh point, only for the umpires to wave his shot wide, but that decision was overturned by Kildare referee Fergal Barry after he consulted with the linesman on that side of the pitch.
Longford should have pressed on to settle the issue and while they continued to enjoy considerable possession, both Robbie Smyth and Barry Mc Keon squandered chances of extending the advantage before Westmeath got back on level terms with a well struck point from substitute Eoin Monaghan in the 45th minute.
The home county then missed a couple of good opportunities themselves, with the unmarked Alan Coffey landing a poorly struck effort straight into the arms of opposing keeper Gareth Higgins, but Longford almost threw the victory away after kicking a total of eight wides in the second half - compared to just three for Westmeath.
Robbie Smyth converted a free in the 50th minute to regain the lead for Longford, following a foul on Rory Connor, and two more chances were sqaundered by the visitors before Westmeath broke to score the equalising point through a fine strike from the under pressure Eoin Monaghan in the 55th minute.
Extra-time was looming large at this late stage after Westmeath missed a free but when one of their players then lost the ball at the other end of the pitch, Barry McKeon punished the costly mistake to land a well struck long range point.
That proved to be the winning score and despite further wides through Smyth (free) and McKeon, Longford had done enough to get across the first hurdle in the Leinster Under 21 Championship at the second attempt.
LONGFORD: Gareth Higgins (Carrickedmond); Cian Farrelly (Killoe Emmet Og), Andrew Farrell (Cashel), Anthony McBrien (Abbeylara); Shane Clarke (Killoe Emmet Og), Stephen McLoughlin (Clonguish), Conor Shields (Clonguish); Barry McKeon (Colmcille, 0-1), James McGivney (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s, 0-1); Emmet Noonan (Fr. Manning Gaels), Rory Connor (Kenagh, 0-1), Paddy Kiernan (Killoe Emmet Og); Andrew Dalton (Longford Slashers), Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 0-6, four frees), Liam Connerton (Rathcline).
Subs:- Ross McNerney (Dromard) for L Connerton (52 mins); Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe Emmet Og) for P Kiernan (56 mins).
WESTMEATH: Michael McMahon; John Rock, Killian Daly, Jack Donoghue (0-1); David Lynch, Paddy Holloway, David Whelan; Dean McNicholas (0-1), David McCormack; Seanie Daly, Ger Leech, Alan Coffey; Ray Connellan (0-2, frees), Lorcan Dolan (0-1), Shane Dempsey (0-1, free).
Subs:- Eoin Monaghan (0-2) for D McNicholas (34 mins); Martin Rock for G Leech (56 mins).
Referee: Fergal Barry