It may be only the O’Byrne Cup but after losing all three games in the group stages of the Leinster senior football tournament by a combined total of 26 points it must be considered a definite cause for concern in the build up to the opening game in the National League against Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon on Sunday February 1st.
Although manager Jack Sheedy experimented in giving a lot of players a run in the O’Byrne Cup and the return of key regulars Michael Quinn, Francis McGee and Paul Barden (at some stage) will clearly strengthen the team for the league campaign, the confidence in the squad is at a low ebb at the moment and Longford badly need the boost of a win.
Whether that comes against Leitrim remains to be seen and while there was little separating the sides for most of the match against Westmeath at a bitterly cold Leo Casey Park in Ballymahon on Sunday last, the concession of a couple of sloppy goals at crucial stages of the second half settled the issue with the neighbouring rivals winning by the comfortable but flattering margin of seven points in the finish.
Longford made poor use of the strong wind advantage in the first half and only held a slender 0-6 to 0-5 lead at the break with four of the points (three frees) coming from the prominent Paul McKeon who was unfortunately forced to retire injured at half-time.
Brian Kavanagh (play) and Barry Gilleran (‘45) were also on target for the home county while the Westmeath scores in the first half were registered by Alan Coffey (two frees), Damien Dolan, Kieran Martin and Denis Glennon (free).
Lively left-corner-forward Coffey was proving to be a constant threat and was denied a goal in the 19th minute when Longford keeper Garrett Higgins produced a brilliant point-blank save to keep his net intact.
After wasting a few chances to extend their lead, it was always going to be a fierce uphill battle for Jack Sheedy’s side against the wind in the second half even though they made the better start on the changeover with Brian Kavanagh converting a free.
But disaster then struck when a fisted attempt for a goal by Westmeath full-forward Lorcan Smyth deflected off a Longford player into the back of the net in the 41st minute for what was a cruel blow.
Westmeath were now leading by 1-5 to 0-7 and while Longford got back on level terms with a well-worked Enda Williams point, very slack defending allowed Kieran Martin through for a gift second goal in the 50th minute.
While the home side immediately closed the gap with a point from Brian Kavanagh (free), and soon after Aidan Rowan had a goal attempt blocked down, Westmeath pulled right away in the closing stages in adding another six points to their tally - four from full-forward Lorcan Smyth (two frees) with substitutes John Connellan and Ger Egan (free) also on the mark.
Longford got a late consolation score when Brian Kavanagh fired over a free and as the management team access yet another setback, there is plenty of room for improvement in the quest to gain promotion from Division 4 which will probably prove to be a tough task on the basis of what was witnessed in a very disappointing O’Byrne Cup campaign.
LONGFORD: Garrett Higgins (Carrickedmond); Karl Murray (Young Grattans), Thomas Gallagher (St. Mary’s Granard), Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers); Colm P Smyth (Abbeylara), Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard), Enda Williams (Clonguish, 0-1); Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers, 0-1, ‘45), Conor Quaine (Legan Sarsfields); Aidan Rowan (Cashel), Diarmuid Cooney (Fr. Manning Gaels), Padraig Gill (Fr. Manning Gaels); Sean McCormack (Killoe Emmet Og), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 0-4, three frees), Paul McKeon (Colmcille, 0-4, three frees).
Subs:- Peter Foy (Longford Slashers) for P McKeon (injured, half-time); Ronan McEntire (Dromard) for P Gill (half-time); Brendan Devine (Clonguish) for K Murray (half-time); Shane Donoghue (Rathcline) for E Williams (59 mins); Fergal Battrim (Abbeylara) for D Cooney (61 mins).
WESTMEATH: Kevin McGuire; John Gilligan, Timmy Mescall, John Rock; Mark McCallon, Kevin Maguire, James Dolan; Paul Sharry, John Stapleton; John Egan, Kieran Martin (1-1), Damien Dolan (0-1); Denis Glennon (0-1, free), Lorcan Smyth (1-4, two points from frees), Alan Coffey (0-2, frees).
Subs:- Francis Boyle for T Mescall (43 mins); David McCormack for D Dolan (50 mins); Ger Egan (0-1, free) for J Egan (57 mins); John Connellan (0-1) for A Coffey (57 mins); Gary McCallon for J Dolan (70 mins); Brian Slevin for J Rock (70 mins).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).