While just four points separated the sides when the final whistle was eventually blown in a high scoring Leinster Minor Football Championship Qualifier at Pairc Tailteann in Navan on Wednesday evening of last week, no excuses can be made for Longford’s early exit as they were well beaten by a superior Meath outfit who held a commanding ten-point lead (1-14 to 0-7) with just nine minutes of normal time remaining before the gap was closed with goals from Aidan McElligott and David McGivney.
After establishing a decisive edge in the battle for midfield supremacy with No. 8 Ruairi O’Grady a real commanding figure, the strong Meath attack received a great supply of the ball and while most of the damage was inflicted by razor sharp corner-forwards Daire Rowe and Joey Wallace who clocked up 11 points between them it must be said that the classy James McEntee was a most impressive playmaker on the ‘40’.
McEntee proved to be a constant threat in operating a most effective role at centre-half-forward and with No. 10 Darragh McGovern also much to the fore up front the Longford defence were generally under a lot of pressure and which forced manager Martin Mulleady (who has decided to step down after three years in charge) and his fellow mentors Liam Belton, Gareth Johnston, Colin Dalton and Emmet Kenny to make numerous changes during the course of the ‘back door’ game.
Midway through the first half panic set in as full-back Andrew Farrell and centre-half-back Jason Earley were replaced in quick succession but the struggle continued as Longford ended up trailing by 1-8 to 0-4 at the break and were fortunate not to be even further behind as Meath squandered a couple of other goal chances, both of which fell to the always dangerous Wallace.
The power and pace of the Meath attack was just too much for the Longford defence, who were simply not good enough to deal with this lethal threat, and the visitors had to wait until the 14th minute for their opening score of the game – a free converted by Martin Cassidy.
Showing four changes from the team that started in the disappointing defeat by Laois in the first round proper a couple of weeks earlier, Longford managed just three more scores before the break with Cassidy (free), Rian Brady and David McGivney on target and were always fighting a losing battle from the moment Darragh McGovern fired home a cracking goal for Meath in the 22nd minute – the end result of a brilliant move.
The eight Meath points in the first half were registered by James Wallace (3), Daire Rowe (3, 2 frees), James McEntee and Ruairi O’Grady and things did not get much better for Longford in the second half despite the ploy of letting the direct ball into Aidan McElligott.
Operating the target man role at full-forward for most of the game after starting at centrefield, McElligott got the green light to line-out against Meath after his straight red card against Laois was rescinded on a technicality and he got a badly needed goal for Longford in the 52nd minute of the qualifier in Navan.
After missing a goal chance earlier in the second half, McElligott eventually found the back of the Meath net in getting the vital touch to a high centre and this brief recovery also yielded fine scores from Liam Sullivan and wing back Adrian Duffy to close the gap to five points.
Prior to that glimmer of hope for Longford, Meath had added another six points to their tally with five of those scores (4 frees) coming from the boot of the deadly accurate Daire Rowe with Darragh McGovern also shooting over the bar to consolidate a firm grip on the game.
Longford had to be content with just three points through Rian Brady (two frees) and a fine strike from Paddy Kiernan and some poor finishing (seven wides in the second half) meant that Martin Mulleady’s side were unable to exert serious pressure on Meath.
After the McElligott goal, Meath showed good character to regain the upper hand and three more points from wing back Niall Kane, James McEntee and Darragh McGovern sealed a well deserved win for the royal county.
David McGivney converted a close range free in the 58th minute and Longford battled it out to the bitter end with Aidan McElligott having a goal attempt saved by the opposing keeper Andy Markey and in this same attack Mattie Gorman had a shot blocked in his effort to find the back of the net.
The losers perseverance was eventually rewarded moments later when David McGivney, with virtually the last kick of the game, fired home a consolation goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time to give the final scoreline a more respectable look but at least Longford can look forward to next year’s Leinster Minor Championship with some hope as eight of the players who featured against Meath last week were members of the county U-16 team who won the 2012 Fr. Manning Cup Tournament.
MEATH: Andy Markey; Thomas McGovern, Charlie Bird, Seamus Lavin; Niall Kane (0-1), Rory O’Coileain, Kevin Treanor; Ruairi O’Grady (0-1), Keith McCabe; Darragh McGovern (1-2), James McEntee (0-2), David Toner; Daire Rowe (0-8, six frees), Niall Lyons, Joey Wallace (0-3).
Subs:- Evan McGovern for C Bird (21 mins); Kevin Ryan for N Lyons (55 mins); Stephen Monaghan for R O’Grady (57 mins); Shaun Byrne for D McGovern (60 mins); Sean McGrath for D Toner (63 mins).
LONGFORD: Shane Fitzpatrick (Killoe Og); Dessie Reynolds (Clonbroney), Andrew Farrell (Southern Gaels), Shane Rogers (Longford Slashers); Adrian Duffy (Longford Slashers, 0-1), Jason Earley (Northern Gaels), Damien Bennett (Killoe Og); David McGivney (Northern Gaels, 1-2, one point from free), Aidan McElligott (Northern Gaels, 1-0); Liam Sullivan (Granard/Ballymore, 0-1), Paddy Kiernan (Killoe Og, 0-1), Mattie Gorman (Granard/Ballymore); Martin Cassidy (St. Vincent’s, 0-2, frees), Larry Moran (Killoe Og), Rian Brady (Northern Gaels, 0-3, two frees)
Subs:- Ronan Sweeney (Clonguish Og) for A Farrell (15 mins); Shane Kenny (Western Gaels) for J Earley (16 mins); Nigel Rabbitte (Northern Gaels) for M Cassidy (half-time); Darragh Gilna (Killoe Og) for S Rogers (35 mins); Eoin Sorohan (Western Gaels) for R Sweeney (injured, 49 mins).
Referee: Barry Tiernan (Dublin).