Longford manager Eugene McCormack couldn’t hide his emotion after watching his gallant side lose to Kildare in the Leinster U-21 Final at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise last week.
Longford put in a heroic performance against Kieran McGeeney’s highly rated Kildare side. The passionate McCormack was visibly upset as he paid tribute to his players: “They are more than heroes, they are just fantastic lads,” he told the Leader. “My heart is broke for them. They were absolutely fantastic. You can only ask your best off them and I got that in abundance. I’m so proud of them.”
Few predicted Longford to get past their first game against the reigning All-Ireland U-21 champions Dublin, let alone reach the Leinster final: “That’s the thing. Everyone put in a huge effort to get here. It took a fantastic Kildare team to beat us and there is a crumb of comfort somewhere there. I worry about my players all of the time and I know how they feel now. They are gutted,” said the Longford U-21 boss.
A goal separated the sides in the end and a penalty at the start of the second half was the decisive score: McCormack said, “It happened in a two minute period after half-time; a goal and then a point very quickly after that and we lost the game by three points. You always look back on these things. If only! But that’s not the way football works. You get your moment in time and you have to seize it and it just didn’t happen for us.”
Longford knew if they were to beat Kildare they would have to get a goal but luck seemed to desert them; Paddy Thompson hitting the inside of the post in the first half and Mark Hughes going so close to finding the back of the net late in the second half. Carrickedmond clubman McCormack said: “You need luck to win matches. I said ‘if we get the bit of luck we would win the game’. We just didn’t get it. What can I say? The players worked their hearts out and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
In the closing stages and with the momentum with them, Longford were dealt a massive blow when Robbie Smyth was stretchered off with a shoulder injury. This setback clearly knocked Longford out of their stride: “The whole momentum had shifted to us at that stage and the break suited Kildare. You need luck and it just didn’t come for us on this occasion,” said McCormack.
McCormack believes that with some talented players at their disposal the future is bright for Longford: “This is the future of Longford football. Kieran (McGeeney) has a big number of fellas on his U-21 panel that have played for the senior side. We are probably a couple of steps behind Kildare in that regard. That’s a process further down the line. With the help of God quite a few of our U-21s will go on to represent their county at senior level.”
Kildare were favourites to not just win the Leinster title but the All-Ireland and McCormack tipped them to do just that: “I think Kildare can go on and win the All-Ireland title. They have the physical strength, the football ability and are well coached. Sure it took a great team to beat Longford.”