The Longford Ladies Intermediate side have been dethroned from their perch at the top of the provincial pile. This would have been Longford’s fourth consecutive Leinster Final success had they emerged victorious but it will be Westmeath whose name will be chiselled onto the cup this year and it was a result that pundits had predicted. The home county never looked like they were going to lose this tussle at Cusack Park, Mullingar on Saturday evening last but the prescribed script of a complete demolition of Longford didn’t play out as expected.
Not only were the Longford Ladies forced to face this challenge with less than two months solid preparation behind them but just hours before the throw-in they were forced to contend with the battle minus the services of their talismanic centre-half-back Sharon Tracey who was ill. Given that unsteady foundation to work with, the team must be credited for the spirited performance they gave and considering that Westmeath have had a seven month advantage against them theoretically they should have won the contest by a lot more.
Having said that, they were easily the superior side and asserted their strength from the early stages. They attacked in packs and seemed to be implementing the blanket defence tactic, suffocating any Longford attack going through the centre. This meant that the majority of Longford’s scores were culminated by frees all courtesy of centre-half- forward Fiona Gettings. In fact Gettings was the sole provider of all of Longford’s nine points which will be a worrying factor for manager Gerry McGill as they approach their first game against Waterford in the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship in a few weeks time.
Midfielders Jacinta Brady and Siobhan McGowan contested strongly against their opponents, fetching kick-outs from both sides and providing support when the team were advancing forward. The full-back-line of Mairead Moore, Elizabeth Brady and Niamh Devaney was solid throughout and conceded nothing without a battle. Moore was very unfortunate to be punished with the sin-bin for an alleged mis-timed tackle but the referee made an incorrect call on that occasion.
The movement among their forwards was promising, Aishling O’Hara, Michelle Mulvey and Orla Noonan outmatching their markers at times, and there was a sense of urgency about their play that indicated that they could be a formidable bunch to face if they had some match practice to familiarise themselves with a team plan.
And that was really the difference between the two sides. Westmeath were purposeful and tactically aware whereas Longford looked lack lustre and unsure as to how to penetrate the opposition but they have a four week break now in which to solve that problem before the All-Ireland campaign begins.
Their resilient attitude was their most notable attribute as they fought back from a deficit of 2-3 to 0-1 at one stage to reduce it to a four point game at half-time. If they can combine that determined mantre with some more preparation work there is no doubt that they can salvage something from the rest of their campaign. But it won’t be an easy task as their All-Ireland group contains some pedigree sides such as Waterford, Fermanagh and Cavan along with Westmeath whose wing forward Johanna Maher received the player-of-the-match award in the Leinster final last weekend.
WESTMEATH: Gemma Leahy; Aileen Martin, Grace Kearney, Carole Finch; Kelly Boyce Jordan, Jenny Rodgers, Aoife Brady; Maude Anne Foley (0-5, 3 frees), Laura Brennan; Elaine Finn (1-1), Ruth Kearney (1-0), Johanna Maher (0-1); Karen Hegarty (0-2), Fiona Claffey, Laura Walsh.
LONGFORD: Monica Bannon (Carrickedmond); Niamh Devaney (Killoe), Elizabeth Brady (Killoe), Mairead Moore (Clonguish); Katherine Lynch (Killoe), Antoinette Brady (Killoe), Sinead Farrell (Rathcline); Jacinta Brady (Killoe), Siobhan McGowan (Clonguish); Anne Burke (Clonguish), Fiona Gettings (Ballymore, 0-9, 7 frees), Fiona Farrell (Skerries Harps); Michelle Mulvey (Carrickedmond), Orla Noonan (St. Helen’s, Drumlish), Aishling O’Hara (St. Helen’s, Drumlish).
Subs:- Michelle McElvaney (Ballymore) for K Lynch; Helen Conefrey (Dromard) for A O’Hara; Michelle Noonan (Carrickedmond) for A Burke.
Referee: Joe Murray (Dublin).