Longford’s tough task against Clare

Longford’s tough task against Clare
In a bid to build on the fairly emphatic win over a poor Carlow outfit in the opening round, Longford are back in action in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers at Cusack Park in Ennis on Saturday evening next, throw-in 5pm.

In a bid to build on the fairly emphatic win over a poor Carlow outfit in the opening round, Longford are back in action in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers at Cusack Park in Ennis on Saturday evening next, throw-in 5pm.

And while the general opinion is that the Clare challenge was probably the best possible draw in Round 2A, this is still a tough task for Jack Sheedy’s side who will be hard pressed to emerge victorious away from the comfort of the home advantage they enjoyed against Carlow.

And with the Clare v Offaly All-Ireland hurling qualifier (7pm) also on the programme, the compact Ennis grounds is expected to house a very big attendance and thus providing a boost for the banner county footballers in terms of support.

Playing at home has proven to be a decisive factor for Longford on their adventures through the back door in the past and the loyal followers making the journey down south will obviously be well outnumbered at Cusack Park and particularly so for the second half when a lot of the Clare hurling fans will have made their way into the grounds.

The Ennis venue is something of a fortress for the improving Clare football team, who pushed the eventual All-Ireland champions Kerry really hard in last year’s Munster semi-final when they lost by only four points (1-17 to 1-13).

And when Limerick came to Cusack Park in the opening round this year it was Clare who grinded out a narrow 0-15 to 0-13 win before crashing to a 12 points defeat against Cork at Pairc Ui Rinn.

A closer look at that semi-final result suggests that Clare did not deserve to suffer such a heavy setback as they were guilty of kicking a total of 12 wides including some goal chances.

Ravaged by injuries with David Tubridy and Podge Collins on the casualty list, Clare manager Colm Collins (father of former hurler Podge) is hoping to have three or four players back in fit condition for the clash against Longford.

Looking at their form in Division 3 of the National League this season when they just about managed to avoid relegation, their three wins were all at home and particularly significant was the resounding 0-22 to 1-13 success against Sligo in Ennis while they also got the better of Wexford and the already promoted Fermanagh in the final round.

It must be said that Clare made considerable progress last season in what was Colm Collins first term in charge and it is interesting to note that they lost by just a single point (1-16 to 1-15) to Tipperary in the 2014 National Football League Division 4 Final at Croke Park. And look what happened to Longford when they took on Tipp in the All-Ireland qualifiers in Thurles last July!

Jack Sheedy is now working with a lot less experienced squad with a number of the established players gone for different reasons. And while Longford are going through a transition period with youth getting its fling, the graduation of a number of promising U-21s to the senior stage is very encouraging with Liam Connerton and Dessie Reynolds particularly prominent in the 10 points win over Carlow.

Clare are a physically stronger and more experienced outfit and their leading light is unquestionably the captain Gary Brennan, a powerful player who will take some stopping at centrefield.

26-year-old Brennan has ruled the midfield sector on Munster interprovincial winning sides and was also in contention for a place on the Ireland squad against Australia in the International Rules Series during his distinguished football career.

Alongside Brennan in the middle of the park will be another imposing figure in the shape of Cathal O’Connor, the top scorer with 1-2 against Cork in the recent Munster semi-final, and this formidable pairing will be difficult to contain in really putting it up to Michael Quinn and Kevin Diffley.

Clare have proved in recent times that they are a decent side and when Kildare came to Ennis last year for Round 3B of the All-Ireland qualifiers they were extremely fortunate to come away with a slender 0-13 to 0-12 victory after staging a great comeback to survive.

In the previous round, Clare crushed Carlow by the landslide margin of 19 points (4-26 to 2-13) at Dr Cullen Park and have shown what they are capable of producing at their best.

So Longford will make the tricky trip to Ennis on Saturday with no more than a 50/50 chance of getting through to Round 3A of the All-Ireland qualifiers and possibly earning a crack at neighbouring rivals Cavan or Roscommon.

That might well materialise but if you are to believe the bookies then Clare (the 4/6 favourites) are fancied to advance a stage further. A close encounter is probably in prospect and hopefully it will end in a win for Longford (7/4).

Footnote: When Longford last played Clare in a competitive fixture back in March 2011, the banner county won by 1-7 to 0-8 in Division 4 of the National League with Gary Brennan scoring the crucial goal deep into first half stoppage time at Cusack Park.

Just six members of the current Longford squad were in action at the Ennis grounds on that occasion - starters Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran and Diarmuid Masterson and substitutes Brian Kavanagh, Kevin Diffley and Peter Foy.