While Longford manager Glenn Ryan and his players are now firmly focused on the Leinster Championship first round clash against Laois at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on May 20th, the bonus of another appearance at Croke Park in the National Football League Division 3 Final on Saturday evening next (throw-in 7pm) is appealing and capturing another title would be a tremendous boost for all concerned but the injury sustained by key player David Barden is a bad blow.
Clonguish clubman Barden was recovering from a recurring hamstring strain and hoped to be fit to face Wexford but he unfortunately suffered ankle ligaments damage at a training session on Friday evening last and could be sidelined for some time which makes him a major doubt for the Laois match.
Longford got a rare taste of that winning feeling in a final last year when they rattled Roscommon in the Division 4 decider at GAA Headquarters but are facing a tougher task against a talented Wexford team who are particularly strong in attack, clearly reflected in the terrific total of 10 goals and 110 points they clocked up in their seven league matches this season.
That is an average of 20 points per game and the Longford defence could find themselves under considerable pressure in the attempt to contain the major threat of Ben Brosnan, Ciaran Lyng, Redmond Barry and PJ Banville while Colm Morris and Eric Bradley are other prominent members of a lethal forward division that will take some stopping.
The presence of powerful midfielder Daithi Waters on the Wexford team is another serious cause for concern such is his ability to win primary possession and he will be partnered by Rory Quinlivan in providing a stern test for the probable Longford pairing of Bernard McElvaney and Martin Brady, both of whom missed the recent ‘nothing at stake’ game at Pearse Park.
Apart from David Barden, others absent against Wexford on that occasion were Sean McCormack, Paul Kelly and JJ Matthews but the trio are expected to be back for the league final, although there is still a doubt about Matthews as he recovers from a broken bone in his hand.
Also set to return to the team are Damien Sheridan and Dermot Brady, who were rested for the 2-12 to 1-13 win over Wexford in the meaningless final Division 3 fixture on April 8th with both counties already promoted but at least it gave Longford manager Glenn Ryan the opportunity to give other members of his squad a run.
A number of U-21 players were in action with Padraig McCormack particularly prominent in operating effectively in the defensive wing forward role and the promising Killoe newcomer could feature in the final on Saturday with David Barden ruled out.
Hopefully, Longford will make the desired impact in the midfield battle in order to provide a proper supply of the ball into the chief marksmen Brian Kavanagh, Sean McCormack and Paul Barden – all quality attackers who can make their presence felt in posing problems for a somewhat suspect Wexford defence who conceded 13 goals and 71 points during the Division 3 league campaign this season.
Tactics, as always, will play a significant part in the eventual outcome with Longford highly unlikely to alter their effective defensive gameplan that has worked so well in the unbeaten league run, yielding six wins and a draw and the momentum is very much with the midlanders going into the Division 3 title showdown.
While Wexford suffered a couple of defeats against Sligo and Longford, not much emphasis should be placed on the latter result at Pearse Park which was basically a warm up for the real thing at Croke Park.
Jason Ryan, the Wexford manager, decided not to start several regulars for that bout of ‘shadow boxing’ with just seven of the team that featured in the promotion clincher win away to Antrim in the previous round in the first fifteen against Longford the last day.
Ben Brosnan, Redmond Barry, Daithi Waters, Colm Morris, Eric Bradley, Adrian Flynn (their exceptional wing back) and Rob Tierney were all rested while PJ Banville was a second half substitute who was only introduced with nine minutes of normal time remaining.
Needless to say, it will be a completely different ball game on Saturday when a title will be at stake and it promises to be a cracking contest in the build up to the championship when the counties could clash again in the Leinster quarter-final at Croke Park on June 3rd, depending on Longford beating Laois in the match that really matters.