Longford bid for league title

Longford bid for league title
Longford and Offaly have become very familiar opponents in recent times and will clash again in the National Football League Division 4 title decider at Croke Park on Saturday evening next, throw-in 5.15pm.

Longford and Offaly have become very familiar opponents in recent times and will clash again in the National Football League Division 4 title decider at Croke Park on Saturday evening next, throw-in 5.15pm.

Promotion was the main target for both counties as they recovered from the setback of relegation last season to bounce straight back into Division 3 and the silverware at stake on this occasion is generally regarded as a bonus.

Having said that, Longford got great satisfaction from beating Roscommon in the 2011 Division 4 final and were back at Croke Park the following year to achieve another success, getting the better of Wexford to collect the Division 3 trophy.

Glenn Ryan was the manager for those two significant triumphs and while Longford are now just one step away from winning another National League title, they will be hard pressed to confirm their recent superiority over Offaly and particularly so with Sean McCormack unavailable at the moment due to college commitments.

McCormack, the chief marksman for the past few seasons, could return for the Leinster championship but definitely gone from the county squad is fellow Killoe clubman Mark Hughes who scored the crucial second goal in the closing stages of the sensational win over Derry in the All-Ireland qualifier at Celtic Park last June.

Jack Sheedy’s side will still head for Croke Park in the belief that the Division 4 title can be won in the quest to score a fourth consecutive win over Offaly in competitive games.

Longford emerged victorious in the Division 3 league game at O’Connor Park in Tullamore back in March 2014 and went on to conquer the faithful county again in the Leinster Championship first round clash at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park a couple of months later.

The teams then renewed rivalry in the current campaign at the end of March and while Longford came out on top again by the narrow margin of three points to clinch promotion from Division 4, Offaly suffered the misfortune of having three players sent-off in a calamity situation.

Losing full-back Paul McConway to a straight red card with 27 minutes gone in the first half proved to be a big blow in what appeared to be a very harsh decision and Offaly manager Pat Flanagan was furious with the general poor performance of Kildare referee Brendan Cawley.

But Offaly showed a lot of character to recover from that fiasco by beating Antrim in the final round fixture the following week in a promotion shoot-out and will be really fired up for another crack at Longford as the counties clash at Croke Park for the first time June 1984.

On that occasion Offaly, inspired by the introduction of substitute goalkeeper Laz ‘Lazarus’ Molloy, came storming back to beat Longford in a most exciting Leinster Championship quarter-final replay after looking dead and buried at one stage. Current county senior selector Philip Kiernan (Ardagh) lined-out at midfield in that game 31 years ago.

Back to the present and Offaly firmly believe that they were the better team in the league game a few weeks ago when they had 15 players on the pitch and should be well motivated to gain revenge in the Division 4 final on Saturday, the curtain-raiser to the Armagh v Fermanagh Division 3 decider.

The momentum gained from a title win could well prove to be a decisive factor when Offaly and Longford then clash for a fifth time in the space of just 14 months and the next showdown is the Leinster Championship first round tie in Tullamore on Saturday May 16th.

While we may witness some ‘shadow boxing’ in the league final with the greater emphasis obviously on the championship game, Offaly will not want to lose to Longford for a fourth fixture in a row in the bid to gain a boost of some success.

Everyone knows that class act Niall McNamee is the Offaly dangerman, such is his great ability to get the vital scores from both frees and play, but with other quality forwards in Anton Sullivan and Bernard Allen the Longford defence could be in for a tough time.

As always, the battle to gain the vital edge at centrefield is going to be a key element in the eventual outcome and it must be said that the Offaly pairing of Graham Guilfoyle and Niall Smith will be difficult to contain in their duel with the probable Longford pairing of Barry Gilleran and Kevin Diffley.

Of course, Guilfoyle and Smith will have a point to prove as both were sent-off against Longford the last day while Paul McConway (the other player dismissed at Pearse Park) is expected to be recalled at full-back after serving a one-match suspension. Johnny Maloney is a real driving force at centre-half-back, with the Darby brothers Brian and Niall other key figures in the Offaly defence.

Longford will be looking to Michael Quinn, unquestionably their main man, to make a big impact at Croke Park while major performances will also be required from Brian Kavanagh and Francis McGee who are well capable of making their presence felt in the scoring stakes.

Providing vast experience in the Longford defence are Diarmuid Masterson, Enda Williams and captain Dermot Brady but whatever happens in the Division 4 league final it will be a great experience for the younger players on the team to get the opportunity to play in a final at Croke Park.