Longford’s Leinster Minor Championship dream is over for another year after they were defeated by Kildare, after extra-time, following a gripping quarter-final encounter on Saturday in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park.
It was an excellent game of football that was decided in the opening minutes of extra-time when clinical Kildare substitute Michael Kelly racked up 1-2 without reply.
It knocked Longford completely off their stride and although they battled hard they just couldn’t recover from it. They also ended the game with 14 men after Conor Berry received a second yellow.
Speaking to the Leader afterwards, Longford manager Gareth Johnston admitted it was a tough defeat to take: “There is nothing we can say that will make it better. It was a very difficult dressing room to be in. It’s the worse dressing room I’ve ever been in. The lads are absolutely shattered. We thought we were onto something this year. Kildare are the champions and they played like it.”
Longford enjoyed a terrific start to the game and within the first minute they scored their first goal when Aidan McElliggot fisted to the net. His Mullinalaghta clubman Jayson Matthews followed up with a point, 1-1 to nil.
An accidental collision between Longford’s Enda Macken and Kildare’s Conor Hartley saw the game being held up for 18 minutes as they both required on-pitch medical attention. They were transferred to the Midlands Regional Hospital Mullingar as a precaution but thankfully their injuries weren’t serious.
When proceedings resumed Longford tagged on three more points to Kildare’s one, 1-4 to 0-1. However, unfortunately after this Longford flourish, the Lilywhites built up a head of steam and they registered 1-7 without response, thereby giving them a four point cushion going in at the break, 1-4 to 1-8.
Johnston believes the game was lost in the opening half: “I think we lost it in the first half. Enda (Macken) going off injured took the sting out of it. It switches fellas off. I’m not saying that was it. He’s okay which is great and we knew he was okay when he was going off. Kildare came back into it which we thought they would. The period just before half-time, that’s where we lost it. That’s football.”
Kildare extended their lead to five points minutes into the second half. Points were traded between Shane Kenny and Ben McCormack, 1-10 to 1-5, before Longford gradually came back into the game. In the 41st minute Robbie Clarke had a goal chance but his weak effort didn’t trouble Tadhg Foley in the Kildare goals.
Three points in a row brought gutsy Longford to within two points, 1-8 to 1-10, before Kildare replied with a point. A second McElligott goal levelled the game, 2-8 to 1-11, in the 54th minute and Kenny quickly followed up with a converted free to put them ahead by the minimum margin.
Ryan King kicked a brace of points to give his side a slender lead, 1-13 to 2-9, but right at the end a wonderful point from Kenny brought the game to extra-time.
The way Longford battled throughout that second half pleased Johnston: “They didn’t lie down, I knew they wouldn’t. We really tested them but we just couldn’t get over the line. I can’t be any prouder of the lads, they have been fantastic. They put in an absolutely massive effort to get back into the game.”
Sixteen seconds into the first period of extra-time Kelly put Kildare in front and he followed that up with 1-1. Longford trailed by 2-10 to 2-16 when they lost Berry with a 2nd yellow. Eoghan Boyle grabbed Kildare’s last point in the 68th minute. Reynolds notched Longford’s only point of the opening half of extra-time, leaving the score reading 2-11 to 2-17. Kildare erected the shutters during the second half of extra time and two Kenny frees proved too little too late as brave Longford bowed out of the championship.
Although they lost Johnston was so proud of the effort they put in: “I could ask for no more from them. We said that if they gave everything it doesn’t matter about the result. They left everything on the pitch and they can be proud of their efforts. Sometimes things go against you. That’s sport and it’s cruel.”
LONGFORD: Luke Meehan; Darragh McLoughlin, Ronan Sweeney, Cian Brady; Nigel Rabbitt, Dessie Reynolds (0-2), Ronan Duffy (0-1); Enda Macken, David McGivney; Shane Kenny (0-6, 4f), Conor Berry (0-1), Cathal McCabe; Robbie Clarke, Aiden McElligott (2-0), Jayson Matthews (0-3).
Subs: Ciaran Donohoe for Macken inj (21 mins), Rory Sullivan for Donohoe (half-time), Sean Costello for McCabe (38 mins), Eoin Higgins for Sullivan inj (43 mins), Aron Earley for Brady (65 mins), Cathal McCabe for Costello (73 mins).
KILDARE: Tadhg Foley; Sean Healy, Mark Hyland, Cian McConnell; Jamie Flynn, Paul Mescal, Conor Earley (0-1); Rory Feely (0-1), Eoghan Boyle (0-1); Evan Flynn (0-1), Conor Hartley, Stefan Lawlor (0-1); Ethan O’Donoghue (0-2), Sean Dempsey (0-1), Ben McCormack (0-4,1f).
Subs: Con Kavanagh (1-0) for Hartley inj (21 mins), Matthew Bursey for Feely (47 mins), Matthew Kelly (1-3) for Flynn (50 mins), Ryan King (0-2) for McCormack (56 mins), Evan Flynn for Kelly bc (77 mins), Rory Feely for Mescal bc (77 mins).
Referee: Fergal Smyth (Offaly).