Numerous missed chances during the course of a poor game cost Longford so dearly as they suffered another early exit from the Leinster Senior Football Championship, losing by a solitary point against Laois at O’Moore Park on Sunday last and the Division 4 league champions must now wait until June 25th for the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
LEINSTER SFC FIRST ROUND - Laois 0-10, Longford 0-9
For the third year in succession at the Portlaoise venue, Longford have fallen at the first hurdle in the race for the Leinster title and were left to rue a wasted opportunity of earning a crack at Dublin in the quarter-final at Croke Park on Sunday week. A total of 16 wides were kicked by the unlucky losers in this torrid close encounter that was spoiled by the blanket defence system, a virus that is killing the finer arts of gaelic football.
Laois were also guilty of some very poor finishing in the difficult windy conditions, shooting 11 wides and some goal chances were also squandered in the second half as they gradually got on top in a fierce struggle to get through to the next round. On the evidence of this patchy performance, Justin McNulty’s side are facing a real uphill battle against Dublin and could crash to a heavy defeat unless they improve considerably.
Unfortunately it was the same old story for Longford who failed to win the match that really mattered but they have only themselves to blame for another first round setback under the Glenn Ryan regime after also going down narrowly to Wicklow (2009) and Louth (2010). The latest loss in Leinster was a bitter disappointment for the players who have worked so hard all season and manager Ryan must now lift the spirit of the squad for the second chance through the back door.
Making their Leinster Senior Championship debuts were Martin Brady, Donal McElligott and U-21 Kevin Diffley (the latter starting at centre-half-back in place of the not fully fit Diarmuid Masterson) and Longford got off to bad start to trail by 0-3 to 0-0 after only seven minutes.
Laois took the lead after just 20 seconds when Daithi Carroll shot over the bar and while the visitors eventually got their act together to get back into contention, a succession of missed chances in the closing stages of the first half led to their downfall.
Longford were 0-5 to 0-3 behind when they proceeded to press the self destruct button in shooting six wides which included a couple of ‘45’s that were kicked off target by goalkeeper Damien Sheridan while David Barden was penalised for overplaying the ball after cutting in from the left to create another scoring chance.
Then completely against the run of play, Laois extended their advantage when prominent wing forward Daithi Carroll converted a free for his third point in the 27th minute but Longford closed the gap just before the break when midfielder Martin Brady blasted the ball over the bar when a goal was there for the taking.
Thus Laois were rather fortunate to be holding a slender 0-6 to 0-4 lead going into the second half with their other scores coming from Billy Sheehan (2), Carroll and MJ Tierney while the first three Longford points were all registered by Sean McCormack, the opener from a free in the 11th minute while the Killoe player was also on target from play in the 16th and 21st minutes.
The first half was littered with silly mistakes as both sides were guilty of giving away vital possession with numerous passes going astray and while the standard of football did not improve much on the changeover at least it was a tight contest that kept the 9,500 attendance interested.
Six minutes into the second half, Longford were awarded a free for a foul on Brian Kavanagh who was winning a lot of the ball but he was unable to penetrate the packed Laois defence which was a real ring of steel. Up stepped Bernard McElvaney to fire over the free but wides followed from Martin Brady and Kavanagh.
The first Laois goal chance then materialised in the 43rd minute with MJ Tierney shooting narrowly wide from a tight angle and moments later midfielder Brendan Quigley raced through but shot straight at opposing keeper Damien Sheridan in a poor attempt to find the back of the net.
Laois were enjoying a dominant spell at this stage but shot a couple of wides before Longford got back on level terms (0-6 to 0-6) in the 49th minute with Sean McCormack landing the ball over the bar with a sweet strike
Daithi Carroll replied with a fine point for Laois and the same player was then through for a glorious chance of a goal but failed to find the back of the net with Longford corner-back Dermot Brady getting a vital touch.
The wides count continue to mount with substitute Francis McGee (from a ‘45) and Paul Barden off target with their efforts but Laois quickly regained the upper hand with a brace of points in the space of a minute from Niall Donoher and Ross Munnelly (free).
Sean McCormack fired over a close range free in the 60th minute to keep Longford in contention but the same player kicked another free wide before Laois created a clear-cut goal chance to put the issue beyond all doubt, only for Colm Begley to shoot high against the upright with just opposing keeper Damien Sheridan to beat.
That was a very lucky escape for Longford who were hanging in there and the gap was cut to the minimum of margins when the prominent McCormack converted another free in the 63rd minute for his sixth point of the game which was a fine contribution to the cause in keeping alive the hopes of springing a surprise against the newly promoted Division 1 side who started without regular midfielder Padraig Clancy.
While Laois hit back with a point from Niall Donoher to ease the pressure in a tense finish, Brian Kavanagh finally found some space to register his first score in the 68th minute and a draw was looking a distinct possibility at this late stage of the game.
But Longford were unable to avoid defeat in their frantic attempt to engineer the equalising point with the under pressure Kavanagh shooting wide and then David Barden was off target when he appeared to be impeded in stoppage time.
No free was awarded and Laois could afford the luxury of missing yet another chance when substitute Donie Kingston shot badly wide as the final whistle sounded seconds later.
It was a real shattering blow for Longford, who have failed to win a game in the Leinster Senior Championship since they beat Westmeath in a first round clash at Pearse Park back in 2007.
But at least resolute corner-back Dermot Brady and roving wing forward David Barden could not be faulted on this occasion as both produced excellent performances while chief marksman Sean McCormack was also much to the fore.
LAOIS: Eoin Culleton; Cahir Healy, Kevin Meaney, Mark Timmons; Darren Strong, Shane Julian, Peter O’Leary; Colm Begley, Brendan Quigley; Daithi Carroll (0-4, one free), John O’Loughlin, Niall Donoher (0-2); Ross Munnelly (0-1, free), Billy Sheehan (0-2), MJ Tierney (0-1).
Subs:- Kieran Lillis for MJ Tierney (45 mins); Donie Kingston for B Sheehan (56 mins); Conor Boyle for D Strong (63 mins); Padraig Clancy for R Munnelly (71 mins).
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon), Noel Farrell (Colmcille); Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore, 0-1, free), Martin Brady (Sean Connolly’s, 0-1); David Barden (Clonguish), Paddy Dowd (Clonguish), Paul Barden (Clonguish); Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 0-1), Sean McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-6, three frees).
Subs:- Francis McGee (Dromard) for P Dowd (45 mins); Peter Foy (Cashel) for S Mulligan (53 mins); John O’Shea (Carrickedmond) for M Brady (63 mins); Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard) for N Farrell (63 mins).
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).