While there are high hopes for Longford in the Leinster Minor Football Championship this year, taking on the strength of Dublin in the opening round was always going to be a most difficult task and so it proved at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday last.
A couple of goals at crucial stages of the game gave Dublin a decisive edge on their way to victory, much to the bitter disappointment of the home supporters among the estimated 700 attendance, but all is not lost for Longford who will get a second chance in the qualifiers away to Louth with the game scheduled for Drogheda on Thursday week May 1.
On the evidence of the first half performance when they enjoyed the greater share of the possession and were rather unfortunate to be trailing by a point at the break, 1-7 to 0-9, Gareth Johnston’s side clearly have the ability to come through the ‘back door’ and join Dublin in the quarter-finals.
But there is plenty of room for improvement and apart from making quite a few costly mistakes against quality opposition, Longford will have to make a bigger impact at centrefield if they are to achieve an extended run in the championship.
When Dublin got on top in this vital department in the second half, they never looked like losing and their second goal from full-forward Con O’Callaghan with two minutes gone on the changeover was a real killer blow for Longford.
Just three points separated the sides in the finish but Dublin squandered several scoring opportunities in the second half, including three more clear-cut goal chances, and should have won by a wider margin with their great pace allied to excellent support play posing a lot of problems for the home county.
Having said that, Longford were still in contention right up until the end and were denied a goal chance in the 59th minute when David McGivney was going through, only to be the victim of a cynical foul by Dublin corner-back Cian Murphy who received a black card for the offence.
Rian Brady fired over the resulting free to give his side a glimmer of hope - Dublin winning by three points at this late stage - and a free apiece were exchanged between Con O’Callaghan and Brady before Longford launched a last gasp attack in the hope of engineering a dramatic equalising goal.
Aidan McElligott got his fist to a high centre into the goalmouth, only to direct the ball straight at the Dublin keeper in the third minute of stoppage time, and the final whistle blew seconds later.
It was looking like developing into a completely different story when Longford, full of confidence, raced into a commanding 0-5 to 0-1 lead with just eight minutes gone in the game with centre-half-back Dessie Reynolds getting the opening score after just 20 seconds.
A brace from Rian Brady (free and play) and a point apiece from Conor Berry and David McGivney accounted for the other scores in a brilliant start but then came a big moment in the game when a costly lapse of concentration in the Longford defence allowed Dublin in for a vital goal in the 9th minute.
The perfect pass from the dangerman O’Callaghan put Aaron Byrne clean through and he made no mistake from close range as Dublin ended up leading by the minimum of margins at half-time, somewhat against the run of play.
Longford kicked a total of nine points in the first half, the other scores coming from Conor Berry (a terrific effort), Shane Kenny (free), Nigel Rabbitte and wing back Ronan Duffy, but were still behind.
Accurate Dublin free- taker Con O’Callaghan fired over four frees in the first half (two of which were dubious decisions) and ended up with 1-7 to his credit while impressive right-half-back Conor Kavanagh surged forward to shoot a couple of points.
Kavanagh got a third point in the 13th minute of the second half and it gradually developed into a tough struggle for Longford who were restricted to five points on the changeover - the first from a Rian Brady free in the opening minute to leave the sides all square, 0-10 to 1-7.
But the second Dublin goal followed immediately and Longford were always playing catch up thereafter even though they managed to keep in touch with points from Rian Brady (three more frees) and David McGivney.
But it was nearly all Dublin in the closing stages with substitute Warren Egan missing an open goal when shooting wide in the 50th minute; Longford keeper David Shannon saved a point-blank shot from Chris Sallier in the 56th minute while Aaron Elliot was then denied when trying to walk the ball into the net moments later, only to lose possession.
Make no mistake about it, the best team won on this occasion but Longford are well capable of bouncing back by beating a Louth side who suffered a demoralising 3-15 to 2-5 defeat against Wexford in the first round game in Drogheda on Saturday last.
LONGFORD: David Shannon (Carrick Sarsfields); Darragh McLoughlin (Clonguish Og), Ronan Sweeney (Clonguish Og), Enda Macken (Colmcille); Eoin Higgins (Granard/Ballymore), Dessie Reynolds (Clonbroney, 0-1), Ronan Duffy (Clonguish Og, 0-1); Shane Kenny (Western Gaels, 0-1, free), David McGivney (Northern Gaels, 0-2); Nigel Rabbitte (Northern Gaels, 0-1), Cathal McCabe (Colmcille), Ciaran Donohoe (Killoe Og); Robbie Clarke (Longford Slashers), Rian Brady (Northern Gaels, 0-6, five frees), Conor Berry (Northern Gaels, 0-2).
Subs:- Aidan McElligott (Northern Gaels) for E Higgins (half-time); Jayson Matthews (Northern Gaels) for C Donohoe (43 mins); Rory Sullivan (St. Dominic’s/Moydow Harpers Og) for C McCabe (51 mins); Barry McKiernan (Northern Gaels) for R Clarke (55 mins); Aaron Earley (Northern Gaels) for R Sweeney (black card, 60 mins).
DUBLIN: Eiven Whelan; Cian Murphy, Andrew McGowan, Declan Monahan; Conor Kavanagh (0-3), Shane Clayton, Glenn O’Reilly; Cian Burke, Eoghan McHugh; Aaron Elliot, Colm Basquel (0-1), Jack Burke; Aaron Byrne (1-0), Con O’Callaghan (1-7, all points from frees), Chris Sallier.
Subs:- Warren Egan for A Byrne (41 mins); Eoin Murchan for C Basquel (48 mins); Rian McBride for C Sallier (57 mins); Aodhan Fee for C Murphy (black card, 59 mins).
Referee: Brendan Cawley