Nicky Rackard Cup Senior Hurling Championship Relegation Play-Off: Longford 2-20 Louth 2-16
Joe O’Brien made a vital contribution as the Longford hurlers retained their Nicky Rackard Cup status for next year as he scored 1-9 in the win over Louth that needed extra-time to separate the sides.
Longford had been in a four point lead heading into the final 10 minutes but Louth hit four points in a row to bring the game into extra-time.
Joe O’Brien hit a fantastic goal in the first minute of extra-time and with just one point between them with time nearly up the Clonguish man set Eoin Donnellan up for a killer goal and Longford couldn’t be caught. Defender Karl Murray also figured most prominently for the county hurlers in the game at the St Loman’s GAA grounds in Mullingar on Saturday last.
Longford hit three wides in a row before they opened the scoring in the 8th minute with a great point from O’Brien but Louth replied with a goal from the impressive Liam Dwan.
Cian Kavanagh and Joe O’Brien scores drew Longford level before Gerard Smyth and Cathal Mullane exchanged points.
The sides were level twice again before Louth went ahead by two by the 27th minute. Two fine points from Eoin Donnellan and Mullane drew Longford level but just before the break Dwan hit over a free to give Louth a one point lead, 1-6 to 0-8.
Shane Callan put two between them in the 38th minute but Longford replied in terrific fashion with Martin Coyle playing a captain’s role and Joe O’Brien and Cathal Mullane causing havoc in the forward line. They turned a two point deficit into a three point lead by the 44th minute.
Two fine points from Mullane, either side of a Dwan free, put Longford ahead by four by the 55th minute. But injuries to players put a halt to Longford’s momentum and Louth battled back, hitting over four unanswered points to level matters and bring the game into extra-time.
Longford made a fantastic start to extra-time with Joe O’Brien collecting the ball and racing through to score a goal. O’Brien added a free and Mullane fired over a point to put Ray Gavin’s side ahead by five points but Louth pulled a point back.
A free from Paddy Lynch cut the gap to three but Longford substitute Luke Kelly fired over an excellent point.
It looked comfortable for Longford but with minutes remaining they gave away a penalty and Dwan made no mistake to get a goal and Ricky McKeown reduced arrears to just one point with a minute remaining.
With the clock ticking down it was all about who wanted it more and Longford’s players stood up with substitute Kealan Cox leading the way. Joe O’Brien gained possession and raced through before passing to Eoin Donnellan who fired a shot to the back of the net. It was no more than Longford deserved; a fine end to the season after the heartbreak of missing out on promotion in Division 3B of the National League.
LONGFORD: Paddy Cullen; Gerard Moore, Karl Murray, Conor Flanagan; Benny Stakem, Bart Hanley, Johnny Casey; Kevin Mealiffe (0-1), Paul Barden Jnr; John Mulhern, Martin Coyle, Cathal Mullane (0-5); Eoin Donnellan (1-1), Cian Kavanagh (0-3), Joe O’Brien (1-9, 4 frees).
Subs:- Kealan Cox for J Casey (injured, 64 mins); Luke Kelly (0-1) for J Mulhern (extra-time).
LOUTH: James Connolly; Eoin McKeown, Johnny Carter, Ricky McKeown (0-1); Gavin Kerrigan (0-1), Brian Carter, Cathal Ryan; Shane Callan (0-2), Darren O’Hanrahan; Gerard Smyth (0-1), Gavin Kane (0-1), Andrew Mackin; Liam Dwan (2-8, 6 frees, 1 ’65), Sean Connelly, Paddy Lynch (0-1).
Subs:- Oisin Drumm (0-1) for P Lynch (46 mins); Colman O’Reilly for D O’Hanrahan (extra-time); Gary O’Brien for G Kane (extra-time), Niall Cafferkey for B Carter (extra-time).
Referee: John O’Brien (Tipperary)