A goal from Mostrim youngster Luke Kelly helped 14 man Longford claim the National Hurling League Division 3B title at the expense of Sligo in Carrick-on-Shannon on Sunday last and in doing so gain promotion to Division 3A next season.
Kelly – a member of the victorious Cnoc Mhuire Granard All-Ireland winning squad – capped off an excellent weekend with a goal in the 12th minute that proved the difference in the final. Longford had to play the second half of the game with 14 men after Kevin Conneely was sent-off two minutes from the break following a clash with Sligo corner-back Fiachra Coyne.
It was a huge achievement by the hurlers when you look back at last year and the turmoil they went through. Captain Joe O’Brien mentioned that in his acceptance speech. Manager Frank Browne was unavoidably absent from the game but no doubt was delighted to hear the final score. His side didn’t put in a stylish performance but they battled and stood firm to claim a deserved win.
The Lory Meagher Cup is Longford’s main target this year and their first game is away to Warwickshire on the 4th of May and this league title win will certainly give them a lift ahead of a tricky trip to Birmingham.
Early points were traded between Joe O’Brien and Gary Waldron (free) before Longford took control. In the 12th minute they regained the lead; Eoin Donnellan was fouled and he duly obliged with the free. One minute later he turned provider when his free was turned into the net by Kelly.
John Newman extended Longford’s lead to five points in the 18th minute. After 20 minutes, Sligo got their second point of the game; Liam Reidy with the score. A free from goalkeeper Eanna Daly, from well over 70 metres, in the 27th minute restored Longford’s five point advantage.
A well-taken free from Declan Tanner two minutes later put six between the sides but three minutes later Longford were dealt a blow when Conneely was shown a straight red card. Just before the break Sligo registered their third point; Keith Raymond getting the score.
With the numerical advantage Sligo decided to use the spare man in defence to stop a potent Longford full-forward-line with Ronan Cox moving back. In the early stages of the second half Raymond had a chance to grab a second point but his effort was easily caught by Longford keeper Daly.
13 minutes had elapsed before the first point of the second half was registered; Sligo’s substitute Brian McMahon with his side fourth score. One minute later Michael Gilmartin missed a glorious goal chance to get his side back into the game.
Another Waldron free in the 50th minute brought Sligo to within three points. Joe O’Brien responded with a free for Longford before Waldron was on target again, pointing his third free.
Longford had chances after that to extend their lead but they hit a number of wides. Kevin Gilmartin was lucky to stay on the pitch in the 58th minute when he was involved in a tussle with Declan Tanner but he just received a yellow card. O’Brien struck over the free from distance.
But four minutes later there was a goal in it again when McMahon fired over. O’Brien responded with his fourth point in the 65th minute. Sligo started to pile on the pressure in the final few minutes as they tried to get back into the game. It was back down to a three point game again in the 66th minute when Waldron pointed his fourth free. Two minutes after that midfielder Reidy was on target to cut the gap to just two points.
Sligo had chances in the closing stages but try as they might they just couldn’t add on any scores and Longford held out for a morale boosting and hard fought win.
LONGFORD: Eanna Daly (Clonguish, 0-1, free); Paudie McGarry (Clonguish), Rory Breslin (Clonguish), Brendan Stakem (Mostrim); Conor Egan (Birr), Tommy Roche (Salthill-Knocknacarra), Karl Murray (Clonguish); Ciaran Finucane (Clonguish), Paul Barden (Clonguish); Luke Kelly (Mostrim, 1-0), Kevin Conneely (Ballinderreen), Eoin Donnellan (Rathcline, 0-1, free); Declan Tanner (St. Rynagh’s, 0-1, free), John Newman (Salthill-Knocknacarra, 0-1), Joe O’Brien (Clonguish, 0-4, two frees).
Sub: Paddy Corcoran (Clonguish) for L Kelly (66 mins).
SLIGO: Declan Reidy; Fiachra Coyne, John Kelly, Tomás Cawley; Ethan McGowan, Brendan Kenny, Jamie Kenny; Liam Reidy (0-2), David Collery; Aidan Morrison, Ronan Cox, Kevin Gilmartin; Gary Waldron (0-4, all frees), Keith Raymond (0-1), Michael Gilmartin.
Subs:- Brian McMahon (0-2) for F Coyne (half-time); Michael Conneely for K Gilmartin (68 mins).
Referee: Brendan Sweeney (Cavan).