A spirited comeback from Longford’s U21s saw them claim the Hastings Cup at the expense of holders and near neighbours Cavan in Ardagh on Saturday afternoon.
Trailing by five points coming into the final 10 minutes, Longford showed true heart and determination to turn that deficit into a two-point winning margin in the end.
Three points down with four minutes remaining, it was Emmet Og’s Daniel Mimnagh who levelled the game with a nice goal. Robbie Smyth edged them ahead by one point in the 60th minute and scored again in the 62nd minute but the drama didn’t end there.
Cavan missed a chance to snatch a dramatic winner deep into stoppage time. Knowing that only a goal would do, Darragh Sexton had the chance to win the game but Ronan Keogh responded excellently to clear the danger and Longford breathed a huge sigh of relief.
In front of a large crowd, the game was played at a very high tempo with Longford taking a while to get to grips with Cavan’s physical strength. In their previous games, Eugene McCormack’s side had easy wins over Roscommon and Wicklow but the Ulster men were to be their sternest and stiffest test.
Cavan have won back-to-back Ulster titles in recent years and defeated Longford after extra-time in this competition last year. From the start it was clear that their intentions were to retain the cup.
Longford opened the scoring inside the opening minute with a pointed free from Smyth. Cavan registered their first point in the fifth minute when Emmett Fitzimmons played the ball to wing-back Fergal Flanagan and he fisted over the bar.
Longford had chances to retain their lead but hit two bad wides in a row. Cavan took the lead in the eighth minute - Fitzimmons with the point after good play between himself and Jack Brady.
Just like their previous attacks, Longford were wasteful and in the space of two minutes they kicked two efforts straight into the hands of Cavan ‘keeper James Farrelly.
Longford were to rue those missed chances and Cavan doubled their advantage in the 11th minute when Shane Kelly was fouled and up stepped Enda O’Reilly to fire over his first point of the game.
One minute later Longford had a chance to get their second point of the game but Mark Hughes’ free was caught on the line. They did eventually get on the scoreboard again in the 14th minute - Barry McKeon was fouled and Smyth fired over his second point.
Cavan responded with a great effort from O’Reilly. There was then a lull in the game as both teams squandered opportunities. The next score came in the 25th minute from Rory O’Connor, a lovely score from the Kenagh player. But Cavan went down the field and restored their two point advantage, Paul O’Connor with the point.
It was all Cavan then before the break. Another O’Reilly free put them ahead by three in the 28th minute and one minute later they made that four with another O’Connor point. Longford had a great chance to cut the gap to one point in additional time. Barry McKeon did very well to cut inside and play the ball to Hughes but his effort was brilliantly saved by the Cavan ‘keeper.
Longford made a good start to the second half and in the opening six minutes reduced arrears to two points; Hughes on target twice (one free). Two points in the space of two minutes from Brady (free) and O’Connor restored Cavan’s four point advantage in the 41st minute.
More chances were squandered by Longford before another O’Reilly free put five between the sides. Cavan were defending well and it looked like they’d see the game out but Longford had other ideas. Farrelly and Cooney both found range before Mimnagh drew the side’s level with a well-taken goal in the 56th minute and then Smyth secured the win - that looked unlikely five minutes from time - with two late points.
Longford: Paddy Collum; Ronan Keogh, Barry O’Farrell, Cian Farrelly; Diarmuid Cooney (0-1), Dylan Quinn, Darren Farrelly (0-1); James McGivney, Padraig McCormack; Daniel Mimnagh (1-0), Barry McKeon, Darren Gallagher; Robbie Smyth (0-4, 3f), Mark Hughes (0-2), Rory O’Connor (0-1).
Subs used: Darragh Bennett for D Quinn (half-time), Cillian Lynn for R O’Connor (43mins).
Cavan: James Farrelly; Conor Smith, Killian Clarke, Tadhg Morrissey; Fergal Flanagan (0-1), Brian Sankey, Paul McEvoy; James Galligan, Paul Graham; Emmett Fitzimmons (0-1), Enda O’Reilly (0-4,3f), Chris Conroy; Jack Brady (0-1,1f), Shane Kelly, Paul O’Connor (0-3).
Subs used: Darragh Sexton for T Morrisey (27mins), Gerard Smith for P McEvoy (half-time), Karl Duke for E Fitzimmons (40mins), Conor Madden for S Kelly (59mins).
Referee: Declan Hunt (Roscommon).