Inspired by full-forward Robbie Smyth who fired over five points in the second half of a thrilling encounter at O’Moore Park on Wednesday night of last week, Longford eventually got the better of Laois after extra-time in the Leinster U-21 Football Championship quarter-final.
It was a terrific result for Jack Sheedy’s side, who trailed by 1-5 to 0-2 at one stage of this tense and exciting game but a goal from Liam Connerton in the 28th minute proved to be a very crucial score as Longford, showing a lot of spirit, went on to win the match by the minimum of margins.
The reward for such honest endeavour, much like the win over Westmeath in the previous round, is a semi-final meeting with a strongly fancied Dublin side back in Portlaoise on Wednesday night next, March 19th. And few can argue with the fact that Longford are facing a most difficult task in their quest to qualify for the Leinster U-21 Football Final for the third time in the space of four years.
But for now the current squad can enjoy a significant achievement in reaching the last four (with the return of Barry O’Farrell a big boost) and they showed a lot of character to stage a recovery late in the first half after kicking a total of six wides, as compared to five for Laois who had the advantage of the strong wind.
Wearing the new ‘away’ jersies, Longford got off to a terrible start when mistakes gifted the home county 1-1 with the goal coming from Martin Scully in the 6th minute. But it must be said that the wind and rain made the conditions slippy and errors were always going to be made on a tough night for constructive football.
Back came Longford with a well struck point from Barry McKeon in the 11th minute but Laois regained the upper hand with a brace of scores from their impressive centre-half-forward Evan Costello, one of which was a cracking strike from play.
Rory Connor shot over the bar for Longford’s second score in the 21st minute but Laois continued to be extremely dangerous in attack and after Costello converted another free, they could have grabbed a goal when a shot from Evan O’Carroll hit the upright.
A very good score from Paul Kingston in the 27th minute left Laois in a comfortable six points lead but Longford got right back in contention moments later when Liam Connerton finished the breaking ball to the net from a few yards out after the opposing keeper Graham Brody had produced a fine save to stop a shot from Paddy Kiernan.
A minute into stoppage time Andrew Dalton landed a fine point to leave Longford trailing by 1-5 to 1-3 at the break and seemingly in a strong position with the wind now in their favour but it was Laois who dominated the early stages of the second half with three points in a row through Evan Costello (2) and Evan O’Carroll.
That was really putting it up to Longford but lifted by the presence of the fit again Barry O’Farrell on the pitch (who was brought on with five minutes gone on the changeover) they came storming back to fire over seven points in a row with an excellent long range effort from Robbie Smyth in the 38th minute sparking off the revival.
James McGivney then converted a free and three fine points quickly followed from the impressive Smyth before Paddy Kiernan kicked a glorious score from near the sideline in the 48th minute to put Longford in front.
Soon after Michael Keogh had a chance of getting a goal for Laois but he was put under pressure by a couple of Longford defenders in shooting tamely at opposing keeper Gareth Higgins who made a comfortable save.
When Robbie Smyth converted a free in the 54th minute, Longford were leading by 1-10 to 1-8 and looking good but they were guilty of shooting three wides in the closing stages of the game in allowing Laois to snatch a draw, thanks to late points from Nigel Murphy and Evan Costello (free).
And so extra-time was required to resolve the issue and while Longford made a great start with a point from Liam Connerton, a bad wide followed from Paddy Kiernan before substitute Ross McNerney had a goal attempt blocked down with Robbie Smyth hitting the upright in the same attack.
Laois went very close to scoring a goal when a shot from Evan O’Carroll hit the crossbar, with opposing keeper Gareth Higgins apparently getting a vital touch to the ball in what was a very lucky escape for Longford and proved to be a decisive factor in the eventual outcome.
The visitors launched an immediate counter-attack with Barry McKeon shooting over the bar, only for Laois to reply with a point from Alan Farrell, and the ding-dong battle continued in the second half of extra-time with the cool McKeon kicking over another score.
Laois hit back quickly with a point from Jason Campion to make it a very nervous final few minutes for all concerned at O’Moore Park but Longford stuck it out to book their place in the Leinster U-21 semi-final and a return trip to Portlaoise to face the might of Dublin.
LONGFORD: Gareth Higgins (Carrickedmond); Cian Farrelly (Killoe Emmet Og), Andrew Farrell (Cashel), Anthony McBrien (Abbeylara); Shane Clarke (Killoe Emmet Og), Stephen McLoughlin (Clonguish), Conor Shields (Clonguish); Barry McKeon (Colmcille, captain, 0-3), James McGivney (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s, 0-1, free); Emmet Noonan (Fr. Manning Gaels), Rory Connor (Kenagh, 0-1), Paddy Kiernan (Killoe Emmet Og, 0-1); Andrew Dalton (Longford Slashers, 0-1), Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 0-5, one free), Liam Connerton (Rathcline, 1-1).
Subs:- Barry O’Farrell (Carrickedmond) for A McBrien (injured, 35 mins); Ross McNerney (Dromard) for E Noonan (55 mins); Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe Emmet Og) for R Connor (57 mins).
Subs in extra-time: Mattie Gorman (Ballymore) for S Clarke; Podge Gill (Fr. Manning Gaels) for S McLoughlin.
LAOIS: Graham Brody; Eoin Feane, Ciaran Lennon, Dan Dunne; Donal Ramsbottom, Mark O’Halloran, Darren Fitzpatrick; Jason Campion (0-1), Padraig McEvoy; Eoin George, Evan Costello (0-7, five frees), Martin Scully (1-0); Paul Kingston (0-1), Michael Keogh, Evan O’Carroll (0-1).
Subs:- Adam Campion for D Dunne (black card, half-time); Willie Young for J Campion (half-time); Nigel Murphy (0-1) for M Scully (42 mins); Alan Farrell (0-1) for E George (49 mins); Robbie Dowling for D Ramsbottom (55 mins).
Subs in extra-time:- J Campion for W Young; Dean Cullen for N Murphy; W Young for P McEvoy (black card, 77 mins).
Referee: John Hickey