While Longford were the superior side for most of the game and were three points in front with just five minutes of normal time remaining, they somehow managed to lose against Wexford in the Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final replay at O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Sunday last and it was a real shattering blow for the players who must now lift themselves for the consolation of a second chance in the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
A crack at the All-Ireland champions Dublin in the provincial semi-final at Croke Park looked like becoming a reality but Longford’s lack of experience at this level was eventually exposed by a craftier Wexford outfit who produced a tremendous finish to fire over four points without reply between the 65th and 69th minutes to snatch a dramatic victory from the jaws of defeat.
When Sean McCormack raced through to fist the ball over the bar in the 60th minute, Longford were leading by 0-15 to 1-9 and looked all set to clinch a place in the last four of the Leinster Championship for the first time since 1988 but lacked the killer instinct to finish off a Wexford side who showed a lot of character to survive this stern test.
The alarm bells began to ring when only a terrific point-blank save by Damien Sheridan prevented Ben Brosnan from scoring the equalising goal in the 61st minute but Wexford – after appearing to be dead and buried – went on to enjoy a new lease of life and the gap was quickly closed with a brace of points from Brosnan (free and play) along with another score from wing back Adrian Flynn to leave the sides all square.
Much to the sheer dismay of the Longford supporters among the 10,000 attendance (most of whom were Meath followers for the curtain-raiser against Carlow), Redmond Barry kept his composure to fire over the lead point for Wexford with time almost up and Longford were unable to engineer the equalising score in a panic situation.
The players were completely gutted when the final whistle was eventually blown and the bitter disappointment of suffering their first defeat in 11 competitive fixtures this year was very hard to take, to say the least. While few can argue with the fact that Longford deserved to win the match, they have only themselves to blame as several scoring chances were squandered during the course of this entertaining encounter.
Brian Kavanagh, Paul Kelly and Paul Barden all missed glorious opportunities of getting a crucial goal and there were a number of other lucky escapes for a Wexford team who are badly hit by a number of injures at the moment and the latest casualty was quality forward Ciaran Lyng who was unable to play any part in the latest showdown between the counties.
In the end Wexford did just enough to gain sweet revenge for their defeat in the National League Division 3 Final at the end of April and Jason Ryan’s side now face the daunting task of taking on Dublin in the battle for a place in the Leinster Final.
Longford were on the brink of making a significant breakthrough but blew it when the pressure came on in the closing stages. Hopefully they can succeed in achieving an extended run in the All-Ireland Qualifiers which will not be easy as they try to recover from their current state of devastation.
Spare a thought for centre-half-back Michael Quinn who was in outstanding form for Longford and almost inspired the county to another win over Wexford in this successful season. Quinn was forever in the thick of the action in producing a classy performance while his fellow Killoe clubman Sean McCormack figured prominently in the attack when he eventually got his act together in the second half.
McCormack ended up with six points (four frees) while the other key forwards Paul Barden and Brian Kavanagh provided the main threat in the first half in scoring five points between them. However, things did not work out so well for Barden and Kavanagh in the second half but even at that it must be said that Longford should have emerge victorious.
Wexford were also guilty of some poor finishing in kicking the same amount of wides as Longford (nine apiece) but the decisive manner in which the midlanders created a number of goal chances should have yielded much greater reward, just like in the drawn encounter at Croke Park the previous week.
In perfect conditions at sunny O’Connor Park, Longford got off to a flying start with a brace of points from Paul Barden in the opening two minutes and three other chances were squandered with a couple of shots dropping short. It was against the run of play that Wexford opened their account in the 7th minute through a well struck score from PJ Banville and moments later the decisive only goal of the game materialised.
The dangerman Redmond Barry went racing through to plant the ball into the corner of the net but Longford recovered quickly from this setback with a terrific long range point from Brian Kavanagh and then Paul Barden weaved his way through but his attempt for a goal hit the sidenetting. Sean McCormack also had a decent chance in this period but he fisted the ball wide when bearing down on the Wexford goals.
Defender Shane Mulligan then joined the attack to land a well struck point in the 17th minute and after Sean McCormack shot a bad wide under pressure the same player converted a long range free in the 23rd minute to put Longford back in front, 0-5 to 1-1.
Back came Wexford with a brace of points through Shane Roche (free) and Redmond Barry and in between Shane Mulligan tried to engineer a goal chance for Longford but lost the ball close to the posts when he appeared to be impeded.
But Brian Kavanagh should have found the back of the Wexford net in the 30th minute when he shot inches wide after latching on to a long ball in from midfielder Bernard McElvaney and soon after Wexford scored again when Shane Roche landed a great point from near the sideline.
Wexford wides followed from Roche and Banville before Longford produced a storming finish to the first half that yielded three excellent points in a row through Michael Quinn, Brian Kavanagh and Paul Barden to lead by the minimum of margins at the break, 0-8 to 1-4.
The advantage was extended when Sean McCormack converted a free in the early stages of the second half but Longford then had a lucky let-off when a shot from Eric Bradley hit the upright with the rebound breaking straight to Shane Roche who kicked the ball over the bar when a goal was on.
Two very bad wides followed from Sean McCormack and Paul Barden before McCormack fired over a well struck free in the 44th minute. Paul Kelly was then brought on to replace David Barden (who continues to be hampered by injury) and with his immediate first touch Kelly missed a great chance of a goal when he blasted the ball over the bar after receiving a pass from Paul Barden.
While a Shane Roche free closed the gap, 0-11 to 1-6, Wexford were very fortunate yet again in the 49th minute when the normally so deadly Paul Barden (put clean through by Sean McCormack) shot narrowly wide with the goals at his mercy.
The force was now firmly with Longford and a couple of scores quickly followed from McCormack (free) and Barden to leave Glenn Ryan’s side in a comfortable four points lead with 18 minutes of the game remaining.
But they should have been even further in front and a well struck point from Ben Brosnan kept Wexford in contention. Sean McCormack replied with a great score under pressure in the 55th minute but Wexford then tacked on two more points through Ben Brosnan (free) and Shane Roche (a great strike from near the sideline) in quick succession.
A fisted point from Sean McCormack appeared to ease the Longford worries with ten minutes left on the clock but they failed to register another score as Wexford produced a super late surge to fire over four points on the trot in finally getting the better of their fierce rivals in the fourth and most important meeting between the sides this season.
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Colm P Smyth (Abbeylara), Michael Quinn (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-1), Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s, 0-1); Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore), John Keegan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s); Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Paul Barden (Clonguish, 0-4), Niall Mulligan (Longford Slashers); David Barden (Clonguish), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 0-2), Sean McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-6, four frees).
Subs:- Padraig McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets) for N Mulligan (half-time); Paul Kelly (Longford Slashers, 0-1) for D Barden (45 mins); James McGivney (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s) for D McElligott (62 mins); Peter Foy (Cashel) for S. Mulligan (67 mins).
WEXFORD: Anthony Masterson; Niall Murphy, Graeme Molloy, Rob Tierney; Lee Chin, Brian Malone, Adrian Flynn (0-1); Daithi Waters, Rory Quinlivan; Conor Carty, Shane Roche (0-5, two frees), Ben Brosnan (0-4, two frees); PJ Banville (0-1), Eric Bradley, Redmond Barry (1-2).
Subs:- Paddy Byrne for R Quinlivan (47 mins); Colm Morris for C Carty (47 mins); John Leacy for E Bradley (53 mins); Joey Wadding for N Murphy (57 mins); James Holmes for R Tierney (64 mins).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).