While Longford experienced little difficulty in overcoming the weak challenge of Wicklow to book their place in the last eight of the Leinster Minor Football Championship, team manager Martin Mulleady does not need to be told that his players will face a far tougher task against the title favourites Dublin in the eagerly awaited quarter-final that is expected to attract a big attendance to Pearse Park on Saturday evening next.
LEINSTER MINOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIER ROUND TWO: Longford 4-14, Wicklow 0-4
The counties, of course, have already clashed this season in the Leinster League Final at Parnell Park with Dublin (coached by former senior star Dessie Farrell) emerging victorious by eight points (3-11 to 0-12) and they went on to hammer Westmeath at the same venue in the opening round of the championship by the wide margin of 19 points, 4-15 to 0-8.
Particularly impressive in that runaway win were Scott Fulham and Ciaran Kilkenny, who inflicted most of the damage in the full-forward-line by scoring 3-1 and 0-6 (4 frees) respectively and it is interesting to note that neither of this dangerous duo started in the league title decider against Longford who have also beaten Westmeath in the championship.
Six points (1-10 to 0-7) separated the sides in the recent round 1 qualifier at Pearse Park but that was a rather flattering victory for Longford who looked in trouble against their neighbouring rivals in the early stages of the second half but recovered well to come out on top in the finish thanks to a decisive penalty goal.
But the emphatic manner in which they walloped Wicklow in the round 2 qualifier at Pearse Park on Saturday last (watched by an attendance in the region of 300) suggests that the boys in blue and gold are clearly improving in coming through the back door, the same route the county took last year on the way to a memorable Leinster title triumph, and with home advantage against Dublin the current team will be quietly confident of springing a shock with the backing of big support.
Five members of the triumphant 2010 team - notably James McGivney, Robbie Smyth, Barry McKeon, Conor Clarke and Cillian Lynn – all figured prominently in the most emphatic win over Wicklow and from the moment influential captain Smyth fired home a penalty goal with just over three minutes gone in the game (awarded for a foul on Lynn who was racing through) the pressure was on the garden county who subsequently collapsed.
A brace of points quickly followed from centre-half-forward Conor Clarke and the hard working roving wing forward Daniel Mimnagh and Wicklow, after going close to grabbing a goal early on, had to wait until the 15th minute for their opening score when Paul Ellis had a close range shot deflected over the bar.
That was a wake up call for Longford who had drifted out of the game for a while but they regained the upper hand with a cracking goal from corner-forward Barry McKeon in the 19th minute and soon after Brian Walsh shot to the back of the net to leave the home side in a commanding 3-2 to 0-1 lead.
Three points in a row then followed through McKeon and a brace from full-forward James McGivney (play and free) and in between Longford keeper Gareth Higgins did well to keep his net intact in producing a point-blank save to deny Wicklow attacker Conor McKenna.
Scores were then exchanged between Theo Smith, who converted a free for Wicklow, with McKeon doing likewise for Longford deep into stoppage time and it was all over as a contest at the break with Longford leading by 13 points, 3-6 to 0-2.
Things got worse for Wicklow in the second half with Longford quickly registering another couple of scores through Cillian Lynn and McGivney (free) and while the visitors pulled a point back when Smith fired over another free in the 40th minute, the action quickly switched to the other end of the pitch.
Regular forward Robbie Smyth, playing really well in a new role at centrefield, landed a couple of well struck points before Wicklow got their last score of the game when No. 5 Mikey Healy shot over the bar in the 50th minute and moments later the same player was denied a certain goal by the Longford keeper Gareth Higgins who made a great save.
3-10 to 0-4 ahead at that stage, Longford cruised through the remainder of the match in adding a further 1-4 to their tally. The goal in the 57th minute was a delightful strike from the deadly McKeon who also fired over another point in ending up with 2-3 to his credit while also on target were Brian Walsh, substitute Gary Maguire and Cillian Lynn.
LONGFORD: Gareth Higgins (Carrick Sarsfields); Michael McHugh (Northern Gaels), Barry O’Farrell (Carrick Sarsfields), John Gill (St. Dominic’s, Kenagh); Shane Clarke (Killoe), Brian Collum (St. Vincent’s, Drumlish/Ballinamuck), Cian Farrelly (Killoe); Robbie Smyth (Northern Gaels, 1-2, goal from penalty), Timmy Jackson (Granard/Ballymore); Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe, 0-1), Conor Clarke (Longford Slashers, 0-1), Cillian Lynn (Wolfe Tones, Mostrim, 0-2); Barry McKeon (Colmcille, 2-3, one point from free), James McGivney (Northern Gaels, 0-3, two frees), Brian Walsh (Longford Slashers, 1-1).
Subs:- Martin Mulligan (Colmcille) for S Clarke (37 mins); Paudge Gill (St. Vincent’s) for T Jackson (37 mins); Andrew Dalton (Longford Slashers) for C Farrelly (53 mins); Gary Maguire (Dromard, 0-1) for R Smyth (53 mins); Ross McNerney (Colmcille) for D Mimnagh (56 mins).
WICKLOW: Colin Smullen; Stephen Murphy, Andrew Corrigan, John Manley; Mikey Healy (0-1), Padraig Geoghegan, Justin O’Brien; Jimmy Kelly, Jamie Snell; Ronan Byrne, Conor McKenna, Theo Smith (0-2, frees); Daniel Keane, Adam Conway, Paul Ellis (0-1).
Subs:- Philip Murphy for J Manley (injured, 14 mins); Niall Crosbie for R Byrne (27 mins); Steve Olohan for C McKenna (half-time); Aongus O’Brien for S Murphy (48 mins)
Referee: Noel Hand (Louth).