Longford Slashers are through to the Senior Football Championship decider for the second year in succession and while they never looked in any real danger against Colmcille in the semi-final clash at Pearse Park on Sunday evening last, retaining the title at the expense of Clonguish will certainly prove to be a difficult task in a most intriguing battle for the coveted Connolly Cup on September 11th.
The old rivals will be meeting in the county final for the first time since 1981, with Clonguish emerging victorious 30 years ago, and Slashers will not be able to afford the same sort of silly mistakes they made against Colmcille. The sky-blues will also have to improve on their finishing as they were guilty of kicking a total of nine wides (as compared to just 3 for their opponents) and almost let the north Longford side back into contention.
While Stephen Phillips missed a glorious chance of a goal in the 10th minute, the full-forward made a big impact in the first half to register four points from play and shot over the bar again with five minutes gone on the changeover when he was well placed to find the back of the net after receiving the ball from Adrian Murphy.
Moments later Murphy had a goalbound effort cleared off the line by Colmcille defender Ollie McGivney and Slashers should have been out of sight as they failed to build on their comfortable 0-9 to 0-4 advantage at the break.
County minor Barry McKeon recovered from a hard knock to land a fine point in the early stages of the second half and a couple of more scores from frees converted by McKeon (39 mins) and Declan C Reilly (40 mins) in quick succession raised the hopes of a possible Colmcille comeback.
Slashers had to be content with a rather slender 0-10 to 0-7 lead at this stage but the pressure was eased when Colin Smith fired over a free in the 47th minute following a foul on the always dangerous Stephen Phillips who was a constant threat.
A terrific strike almost immediately from Barry McKeon reduced the gap but Slashers closed out the game with further points from Smith (free) and substitute Martin Tarmey, the latter on target with a cracking score in the 56th minute amid the fading light to clinch a fourth county final appearance in the space of six years for the townies.
The accurate Smith made a significant contribution in clocking up four points (three frees) and while Slashers were a lot cuter than Colmcille it might have been a different story but for the outstanding displays of commanding full-back Barry Gilleran and roving corner-forward Paul Kelly who generally operated the effective extra defender role for the champions.
Gilleran was a real tower of strength in the heart of the Slashers defence while the dynamic Kelly was forever in the thick of the action in popping up all over the pitch. Gilleran surged forward to kick a glorious point in the 5th minute while Kelly also got his name on the scoresheet in the first half with the other points coming from Stephen Phillips (4), Colin Smith (2) and Adrian Murphy.
Midway through the first half the sides were deadlocked at 0-4 apiece with Declan Farrell (2), John Paul Reilly and defender Padraig Murtagh (a tremendous score) on target for a spirited Colmcille side but Slashers proceeded to step up another gear in the second quarter of the contest in a decisive dominant spell that yielded five points without reply and some excellent scores were registered in the game.
Thus Slashers were well on the way to gaining revenge for the disappointing defeat against Colmcille in the 2008 final and while things got a bit sloppy in the second half they done enough to consolidate their firm grip on the match in earning a crack at the 2009 champions Clonguish in the eagerly awaited title decider on Sunday week. The cream has certainly risen to the top in this year’s Connolly Cup campaign!
LONGFORD SLASHERS: Colm Farrell; Ruairi Barrins, Barry Gilleran (0-1), Gareth Ghee; Peter Brady, Dermot Brady, Conor Clarke; Niall Mulligan, David Sheridan; Adrian Murphy (0-1), Colin Smith (0-4, three frees), Trevor Clendenning; Martin Nevin, Stephen Phillips (0-5), Paul Kelly (0-1).
Subs:- Philip Dobson for A Murphy (51 mins); Martin Tarmey (0-1) for M Nevin (54 mins); Sean Flynn for N Mulligan (60 mins); Thomas O’Rourke for P Brady (61 mins).
COLMCILLE: Mark Kiernan; Ollie McGivney, Noel Farrell, Ciaran Brady; Padraig Murtagh (0-1), Gary Murtagh, Francis Kavanagh; Enda Farrell, John Paul Reilly(0-1); Paul McKeon, Niall Brady, Tommy Doyle; Barry McKeon (0-3, one free), Declan Farrell (0-2), Declan C Reilly (0-1, free).
Subs:- Brendan McCabe for N Brady (50 mins); Colin Kiernan for P McKeon (injured, 60 mins).
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Ballymahon).