Playing with considerable more confidence after the crucial win over Fermanagh the previous week, Longford collected two more vital points in their quest to consolidate their Division 3 status in the National League - dominating the final quarter to overcome Offaly at O’Connor Park in Tullamore on Sunday last.
But Longford squandered no less than four goal scoring chances during the course of this crunch fixture and looked to be in bother when Offaly substitute Joe Maher fired home a well-taken goal with five minutes gone in the second half, the direct result of a costly mistake by keeper Damien Sheridan in his attempt to clear the danger.
That left the faithful county leading by 1-8 to 1-6 and when impressive wing forward Peter Cunningham shot over the bar soon after (his fifth score from play) the pressure was firmly on Longford. But changes were made by manager Jack Sheedy and had the desired effect as the visitors stepped up another couple of gears to outscore Offaly 0-9 to 0-1 during the remainder of this relegation battle.
Despite struggling at centrefield for most of the game, with the regular pairing of John Keegan (injured) and Michael Brady (recovering from concussion) unable to feature, Longford were generally stronger than Offaly which augurs well for their chances of beating the same opposition in the opening round of the Leinster Championship at Pearse Park on Sunday May 18th.
And the main difference between the sides on this occasion was the scoring quality of the deadly accurate Sean McCormack, who kicked over a total of eight points (seven frees). And the Killoe sharpshooter also grabbed a gift goal in the 30th minute when left with the relatively simple task of finishing the ball to the net from point-blank range after a shot from Brian Kavanagh came back off the upright.
While the Offaly dangerman Niall McNamee had a quiet game by his high standards and was restricted to just a couple of points from frees with Longford full-back Barry Gilleran inflicting a tight marking job, the home side were guilty of kicking no less than 13 wides as compared to 6 for the visitors and this proved to be a decisive factor in the finish.
Following the most pleasing aspect of registering back-to-back wins for the first time in two years, there was more good news for Longford with the return of Paul Barden for his first appearance this season. Paul was brought on with time almost up and he will probably play a bigger part against Cavan at Pearse Park on Sunday next, throw-in 2pm.
Apart from the major contribution made by chief marksman Sean McCormack with 1-8 to his credit, his fellow Killoe clubman Michael Quinn played really well throughout the game in popping up all over the pitch and Longford are gradually getting stronger with every game.
And at the same time Jack Sheedy continues to give newcomers a run with Simon Kiernan starting at centrefield. And after kicking a fine point in the early stages of the second half the Killoe player was sent-off for a black card offence, to be replaced by another new face Darren Gallagher from Granard who slotted over a well struck ‘45 when Longford pulled away in the closing stages of the game.
The introduction of Enda Williams with ten minutes gone in the second half proved to be a shrewd move in tightening up the defence and the Clonguish clubman also got his name on the scoresheet when landing a cracking point to put Longford ahead in the 53rd minute.
While Offaly, with a number of their U-21 players in action, got back on level with a point from Graham Guilfoyle in the 56th minute they failed to register another score whereas Longford fired over five points without reply to clinch the victory - four from Sean McCormack which included a fine effort from play.
And Offaly’s tale of woe was complete when midfielder Niall Smith was sent-off approaching the full-time whistle and they now looked doomed for the drop down to Division 4 as they remain rooted at the foot of the table with no points from four games.
One more win will probably be good enough to guarantee Longford’s safety and eight different players got the scores in the win over Offaly with Colm P Smyth (the opening point in the 2nd minute), Brian Farrell, Brian Kavanagh and Mark Hughes also shooting over the bar.
The goal chances that were missed in the first half fell to Michael Quinn (off balance when shooting wide), Mark Hughes and Sean McCormack with the Offaly keeper Alan Mulhall making a couple of point-blank saves and Longford ended up trailing by 0-8 to 1-4 at the break after Offaly finished strongly with three points through Niall McNamee (two frees) and Peter Cunningham.
And Mulhall also came to the rescue to deny Hughes again in the second half while Brian Kavanagh should have released the ball to substitute Padraig Gill when another goal was there for the taking. But it did not matter in the end as Longford ran out comfortable winners by five points and things are looking a lot better now.
OFFALY: Alan Mulhall; Daithi Brady, Paul McConway, David Hanlon; Niall Darby, Johnny Maloney, Michael Brazil; Eoin Carroll, Niall Smith; Conor McNamee, Anton Sullivan (0-1), Peter Cunningham (0-5); Padraic Sullivan, Niall McNamee (0-2, frees), Ciaran Hurley.
Subs:- Graham Guilfoyle (0-2) for P Sullivan (21 mins); Joe Maher (1-0) for C McNamee (half-time); Darragh Corbett for N Darby (48 mins); Nigel Dunne for A Sullivan (63 mins); Ruairi Allen for C Hurley (68 mins); Joseph O’Connor for N Dunne (black card, 70 mins).
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers, captain), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Fergal Battrim (Abbeylara); Colm P Smyth (Abbeylara, 0-1), Fergal Reilly (Fr. Manning Gaels), Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s); Simon Kiernan (Killoe Emmet Og, 0-1), Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon); Brian Farrell (Mostrim, 0-1), Mark Hughes (Killoe Emmet Og, 0-1), Michael Quinn (Killoe Emmet Og); Paul McKeon (Colmcille), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 0-1), Sean McCormack (Killoe Emmet Og, 1-8, seven points from frees).
Subs:- Darren Gallagher (St. Mary’s Granard, 0-1, ‘45) for S Kiernan (black card, 42 mins); Enda Williams (Clonguish, 0-1) for F Reilly (45 mins); Padraig Gill (Fr. Manning Gaels) for B Farrell (48 mins); Peter Foy (Longford Slashers) for K Diffley (62 mins); Cian Mimnagh (Dromard) for P McKeon (65 mins); Paul Barden (Clonguish) for S McCormack (71 mins).
Referee: Damien Maher (Westmeath).