Longford rattle Roscommon to win National league title

While winning the Division 4 League Final at Croke Park was a fine achievement by the success starved Longford senior footballers, the main priority is clearly the Leinster Championship first round clash against Laois at O’Moore Park on May 22nd and Glenn Ryan’s side will carry a lot of momentum into the most important match of the year after scoring a rare win over Roscommon.

Victory was very sweet indeed over the neighbouring rivals, particularly with a National title at stake, and there was a lot to admire about the emphatic manner in which Longford completely dominated the third quarter of the contest to fire over seven points in a row to really rattle Roscommon.

To the sheer delight of the Longford supporters among the disappointing small attendance situated in the bottom half of the Hogan Stand on Saturday last, Roscommon were trailing by 2-9 to 1-3 and were heading for a heavy defeat before they finally woke up to get their act together for the remainder of the game and but for a couple of wonderful saves by opposing keeper Damien Sheridan a dramatic comeback might have materialised.

Roscommon were awarded a penalty in the 51st minute following a foul on Cathal Cregg but Sheridan came to the rescue in keeping out Karol Mannion’s kick and the experienced Dromard shot stopper was at his brilliant best soon after when deflecting a goalbound strike by Cathal Cregg over the bar.

The dangerous Cregg was now operating effectively in the full-forward-line and after getting the first Roscommon score of the second half in the 54th minute, the action switched to the other end of the pitch as a long ball in from Bernard McElvaney picked out Sean McCormack who fisted a close range effort over the bar for his sixth point of the game – four from frees.

But Roscommon piled on the pressure even though they were fighting a losing battle and their perseverance was rewarded with four points on the trot – three from Cregg with Conor Devaney also getting his name on the scoresheet. The losers also kicked a few wides and hit the upright twice in a determined late surge but the damage was already done.

Longford had the last say in stoppage time when midfielder Bernard McElvaney landed a fine point and he enjoyed some good spells during the course of a wide open game that was littered with silly mistakes. With promotion to Division 3 already guaranteed, Roscommon had one eye on the Connacht Championship clash against New York at Gaelic Park on Sunday next and their performance in the league final suffered as a result.

Having said that, Longford were clearly the better team on the day and the records state that this was their first win over Roscommon in the National League since April 30th 1972 when they came out on top by three points, 0-9 to 0-6, in the Division 2 Final played at the Carrick-on-Shannon grounds.

39 years was certainly a very long wait but the bogey has finally been broken and in some style at that. Apart from the hard working McElvaney and the so competent goalkeeper Damien Sheridan, others to figure prominently in this well deserved success were the excellent full-back-line of Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran and Declan Reilly who were a source of real inspiration throughout the game in making it so difficult for their Roscommon opponents – particularly the star player Donie Shine who failed to register a solitary score and was eventually taken off.

Wing back Shane Mulligan was also much to the fore in setting up the crucial first half goals for Martin Brady and Paul Barden and the captain was a constant threat to the Roscommon defence. Paul also landed a couple of vital points in the second half and it was a proud moment for the Clonguish clubman when he stepped up to collect the Division 4 Cup from GAA President Christy Cooney.

Despite kicking a few wides, the busy Brian Kavanagh played his part in this triumph with two points to his credit as did the chief marksman Sean McCormack who recovered from a slow start to make a big impact while the introduction of the maximum five substitutes definitely made a difference with Kevin Diffley, Niall Mulligan, JJ Matthews, Peter Foy and Francis McGee underlining the overall strength of the current squad still minus the long term injured Enda Williams.

Longford overcame the handicap of losing two key players, centre-half-back Diarmuid Masterson and wing forward David Barden (still not fully recovered from hamstring trouble) who were forced to retire injured in the closing stages of a generally scrappy first half which produced a lot more wides than actual scores.

Longford were guilty of kicking nine wides in the first half as compared to eight for Roscommon who got the opening score in the 5th minute when wing back Donal Ward surged forward to shoot over the bar.

But in a brilliant move started by Bernard McElvaney and which also involved Brian Kavanagh, Paul Barden and Shane Mulligan, the Mullinalaghta man played the perfect ball into midfielder Martin Brady who kept his composure to fire his shot into the corner of the net for a clinical finish worthy of the occasion.

Longford then missed three chances in a row before Roscommon, against the run of play, grabbed a goal in the 15th minute when Senan Kilbride went racing through unchallenged to blast the ball into the roof of the net past the helpless Damien Sheridan and Kilbride (clearly an injury concern) was replaced soon after his well-taken score.

Longford recovered quickly with Paul Barden scoring a cracking goal in the 19th minute, after linking up with attacking half-back Shane Mulligan, only for Roscommon to regain the upper hand with a brace of points from Kevin Higgins that left the sides all square (2-0 to 1-3) with 25 minutes gone on the clock.

It remained the same until the 35th minute when Longford finally got their first point from a close range free converted by Sean McCormack and the same player landed a glorious long range strike (another free) from near the sideline in stoppage time for what proved to be a tremendous lift for the underdogs who led by 2-2 to 1-3 at the break.

Whatever was said in the dressingroom during the half-time break certainly made the desired impact as Longford came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second half and following a quick point from Brian Kavanagh a clear-cut goal chance fell to Sean McCormack who had only the opposing keeper Geoffrey Claffey to beat but his shot was saved.

Roscommon continued to struggle as the scores eventually began to flow for a much more motivated Longford outfit who proceeded to enjoy their best spell of the game which yielded another six points without reply – three from the accurate Sean McCormack, the second of which was a top quality strike from play in the 40th minute and at that stage you could sense the eventual victory.

A brace of fine scores were also registered by Paul Barden while Brian Kavanagh also showed his undoubted class when landing a terrific long effort from 50 yards out. Roscommon were reeling on the ropes but they recovered to make a better impact in battling back from nine points down to put a more respectable look on the scoreboard.

It took two superb saves by Damien Sheridan to keep Longford in control of the game (with both teams guilty of a number of missed chances in the second half) and while the gap was gradually closed Roscommon were too far behind to deny their neighbours a long overdue success – a National title that can be treasured even if it was only Division 4.

Promotion was already achieved by Longford who can look forward to a better standard of football in Division 3 of the National League next season. Croke Park is currently a happy hunting ground for the county with the minor footballers winning the 2010 Leinster Championship and the senior hurlers capturing the Lory Meagher Cup last year and a return to GAA headquarters to face Dublin will materialise should the senior footballers manage to beat Laois in a few weeks time.

LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard), Noel Farrell (Colmcille); Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore, 0-1), Martin Brady (Sean Connolly’s, 1-0); Paul Barden (Clonguish, 1-2), Paddy Dowd (Clonguish), David Barden (Clonguish); Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 0-2), Sean McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-6, four frees).

Subs:- Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon) for D Masterson (injured, 27 mins); Niall Mulligan (Longford Slashers) for D Barden (injured, 29 mins); JJ Matthews (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s) for P Dowd (half-time); Peter Foy (Cashel) for N Farrell (58 mins); Francis McGee (Dromard) for S McCormack (61 mins).

ROSCOMMON: Geoffrey Claffey; Sean McDermott, Peter Domican, Niall Carty; Donal Ward (0-1), David Keenan, Sean Purcell; Michael Finneran, Karol Mannion; Conor Devaney (0-1), Kevin Higgins (0-2), Cathal Cregg (0-4); Senan Kilbride (1-0), Donie Shine, John Rogers.

Subs:- Ger Heneghan for S Kilbride (injured, 18 mins); Senan O’Grady for J Rogers (43 mins); Ian Kilbride for S Purcell (50 mins); Enda Kenny for D Shine (58 mins); Terence Kelly for C Devaney (63 mins).

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).