After staging a remarkable late recovery to snatch a vital victory over Monaghan the previous week, the Longford hurlers showed more of the same spirit in a determined bid to defeat Donegal in Round 2 of the National League but it was not good enough against the Division 3A title favourites at Pearse Park on Sunday last.
While Donegal were unquestionably the superior side and cruised into a comfortable 0-9 to 0-2 lead entering the closing stages of the first half, Longford came storming back to trail by just the minimum of margins (0-9 to 1-5) at the break. And the revival continued on the changeover as Frank Browneâ€™s committed side clocked up a total of 3-4 without reply in this glorious spell.
Those three goals through Joe Oâ€™Brien (a couple of gift scores) and Cathal Mullane (a cracking strike) left Longford leading by six points (3-6 to 0-9) and apparently in with a great chance of causing a big upset. But Donegal, with the advantage of the stiff wind in the second half, showed a lot of character in refusing to panic and outscored the home county 1-11 to 0-3 during the remainder of this entertaining encounter watched by a sparse attendance of around 70 spectators who braved the cold weather.
A really dominant period that yielded 1-7 on the trot, starting with a point from yet another Lee Henderson free in the 48th minute, swung the issue back in Donegalâ€™s favour with full-forward Kevin Campbell flicking home the killer goal in the 61st minute after connecting with the perfect pass from Ronan McDermott.
Donegal were now five points in front (1-18 to 3-7) and looked safe but the gutsy Longford side never gave up the fight and a score apiece from Cathal Mullane and Declan Tanner (free in the 68th minute) kept the midlanders right in contention with time running out.
While there was a late scare for Donegal with full-back Joe Boyle clearing the danger in a goalmouth scramble, a couple of frees in stoppage time were converted by corner-forwards Ciaran Matthewson and Lee Henderson to clinch a well deserved win and the visitors were denied another goal when Longford keeper Paddy Cullen made a great save to stop a point-blank shot from substitute Paddy Hannigan in the 67th minute.
The deadly accurate Henderson played a major role for Donegal, shooting a total of 13 points (from 12 frees and a â€˜65), but Longford made it difficult for the table toppers mainly due to the three goals they scored - the first of which materalised in the 33rd minute of the first half when a shot from Joe Oâ€™Brien was deflected over the line.
That gave Longford a great lift and after Eoin Donnellan (free) fired over the equalising point at the start of the second half, two more goals quickly followed from Cathal Mullane and Joe Oâ€™Brien, the latter firing in a speculative shot that was fumbled into the net by the oposing keeper Paul Burns.
That put the pressure firmly on Donegal, now six points behind, but they then took complete control of the game again despite another Longford point from Eoin Donnellan (free) in the 46th minute.
Donnellan got another three scores in the first half, two frees and a magnificent long range effort from play in the early stages of the game, while the other Longford points came from Joe Oâ€™Brien (16 mins) and Cathal Mullane in first half stoppage time.
LONGFORD: Paddy Cullen; Rory Breslin, Brendan Stakem, Karl Murray; Conor Egan, Declan Tanner (0-1, free), Rory Donnellan; Paul Barden (Jnr), Conor Flanagan; Eoin Donnellan (0-5, four frees), Kevin Connelly, Cathal Mullane (1-2); Gareth Ghee, Joe Oâ€™Brien (2-1), Johnny Casey.
Subs:- John Newman for J Casey (44 mins); Gerard Moore for R Donnellan (60 mins); Cian Kavanagh for E Donnellan (injured, 64 mins).
DONEGAL: Paul Burns; Martin McGrath, Joe Boyle, Marty Bonnar; Christopher McDermott (0-1), Jamesie Donnelly, Justin Browne; Paul Sheridan (0-1), Danny Cullen (0-1); Ronan McDermott, Enda McDermott, Sean McVeigh (0-2); Lee Henderson (0-13, twelve from frees, one â€˜65), Kevin Campbell (1-0), Ciaran Matthewson (0-2, one free).
Subs:- Paddy Hannigan for S McVeigh (49 mins); Eugene Organ for K Campbell (67 mins).
Referee: Owen Elliot (Antrim).