“I never experienced an atmosphere like it,” recalled Brian Kavanagh, one of three current Longford players, who featured against the Dubs when they rolled into ‘town’ for a Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final tie on Sunday, June 4, 2006.
The official attendance at Pearse Park was 15,213 but Brian, who was in a full forward line alongside David Barden and Kevin Mulligan felt it was more like ’16,000’.
“It was a scorching day. The fans were on top of the pitch. It was an amazing feeling. We lost by two points (0-13 to 1-12) and to get so close was disappointing.”
An All-Ireland club medal winner with Kilmacud Crokes as they overcame Crossmaglen Rangers on St Patrick’s Day, 2009, Brian converted two frees against the Dubs nine years ago and he remembered, “I was after going through a few markers and Paul Griffin came over on me. He stood on my toes. He apologised and I thought to myself ‘this fella might be a bit easy to mark’. I didn’t get a kick of the ball for the rest of the game!”
Current Longford captain Dermot Brady and Peter Foy also played in that match and it is significant for the fact that it was the last occasion Dublin played a Leinster SFC match outside of Croke Park.
“I’d love to see days like it again in Pearse Park. It is not Dublin’s fault either. It has more to do with Leinster Council. We don’t have a choice in where we are going to play them. We are always delighted to play in Croke Park. There was years we didn’t get to play there at all and we’re lucky the last few years to get playing there.”
Dublin net-minder Stephen Cluxton also played in ’06 and Brian joked, “Cluxton is a class man and everybody will have to be tuned in to his kick outs to try to counteract them. Maybe I’ll go in and kick away the balls from the bottom of his goal to stop him taking quick kick outs!”
A first half Mark Vaughan (coincidentally, he is also a Crokes clubman) goal ensured that Dublin enjoyed a somewhat fortuitous 1-7 to 0-6 interval lead. And although they dug deep, Longford, under the management of Luke Dempsey, Declan Rowley and Eugene McCormack, were unable to reel in the reigning Leinster kingpins.
Indeed, Dublin has won nine of the last ten provincial titles (2005 – 2009 & 2011 – 2014) and when the sequence was interrupted in 2010 it was Meath who controversially claimed the honours at Louth’s expense.
Just out of the minor ranks, Brian’s senior debut in 2005 was a baptism of fire. “We played Dublin in Croke Park. Things didn’t go according to plan (as Longford lost by 19 points, 2-23 to 0-10).”
Longford haven’t faced Dublin at headquarters since and Brian isn’t intimated by the prospect of renewing rivalry. “Croke Park is where all players want to play and we’re going up to give it our best shot.”
He added, “There is no point in going up if you don’t think you are going to win. We know it is going to be extremely difficult but we have belief.
“The beauty of the championship is you never know what is going to happen. It could be the Dublin that beat Monaghan by 20 points in Clones or it could be the Dublin that Monaghan nearly beat in the league semi-final. We’re just going to represent ourselves and our families as best we can.”
The holder of two Dublin SFC and two Leinster club medals, Brian transferred to Crokes from St Patrick’s, Ardagh in 2008 and he was recognised as Leinster club footballer of year in 2010. He says there is ‘great banter’ in Crokes ahead of Sunday’s game especially since there is every possibility he’ll be marking his club mate Rory O’Carroll.
“The Crokes lads are genuine in their support of you and I’ll be playing against some of them. Rory O’Carroll is full back so I might be his direct opponent and I’d say he knows any of my old tricks fairly well! Cian O’Sullivan is centre back and then there is Eoin Culligan.”
He is predicting an energy sapping game. “I’d say we’ll spend a lot of the time without the ball. We’ll have to be very patient, very economical when we do have the ball and if we get a chance of a goal we’ll just have to take it. We kicked 3 wides up in Derry last year and scored 2-16. We have to do something similar on Sunday to be in with a shout.”
Winner of Division 4 and 3 NFL medals in 2011 and 2012, respectively, Brian suggested Longford weren’t ‘mentally right’ for the April 25 Div 4 final against Offaly. “We knew going down to Tullamore (on May 16) that if everyone didn’t put their shoulder to the wheel we’d be beaten out the gate. We weren’t going to be bullied and when you have that sort of siege mentality, that’s when you are more likely to put in a performance.”
He was encouraged by the impact made by the eight championship debutants against Offaly – Paddy Collum, Cian Farrelly, Ronan McEntire, Barry McKeon, Rory Connor, Dessie Reynolds, Ross McNerney and Liam Connerton. “It is great to see there is competition for places because for the last four to five years the U-21 have enjoyed great success and maybe there wasn’t many of them coming on to the senior team. Thankfully that is beginning to change. The years will fly by for these boys, and they need to start young and to be getting their chance.”
Brian is enjoying his football but candidly admitted that he misses Paul Barden and Sean McCormack.
“Paul Barden and Sean McCormack are huge losses and not just as players on the field. It is their personality around the dressing room. I’d be great friends with them and you’d miss them around the place. Getting out of Division 4 was a priority and we succeeded in that. We’d a bit of a wobble in the league final but we won the first round of the championship so, so far, 2015 has been going great.”
The teams and scorers from 2006 were;
Longford: Damien Sheridan; Dermot Brady, Noel Farrell, Enda Ledwith; Cathal Conefrey, Arthur O’Connor, Declan Reilly; Bernard McElvaney (0-1), Liam Keenan ; Padraig Berry (0-1), Paul Barden (0-3 frees), Trevor Smullen (0-1); David Barden (0-2), Kevin Mulligan (0-1), Brian Kavanagh (0-2 frees).Subs: Shane Mulligan for E Ledwith (35 mins), Peter Foy (0-1) for P Berry (56 mins), Jamsie Martin (0-1) for K Mulligan (58 mins), Paddy Dowd for T Smullen (61 mins).
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Niall O’Shea, Barry Cahill, David Henry; Paul Casey, Coman Goggins, Paul Griffin; Ciaran Whelan, Shane Ryan; Mark Vaughan (1-0), Alan Brogan (0-1), Bryan Cullen (0-1); Kevin Bonner (0-1), Conal Keaney (0-8, 0-6 frees), Tomas Quinn. Subs.: Peadar Andrews for B Cahill (half-time), Jason Sherlock for T Quinn (44 mins), Declan Lally (0-1) for S Ryan (60 mins), Ray Cosgrove for K Bonner (60 mins).