A Niall Mulligan goal with 11 minutes of normal time remaining proved decisive as Longford scored a very significant win at the floodlit Brewster Park, Enniskillen on Saturday night last and after flooring Fermanagh in the fight for promotion the midlanders now find themselves in a strong position to qualify for the National Football League Division 4 Final.
Longford 1-8, Fermanagh 0-5
While team manager Glenn Ryan will be delighted with the great start to the season after collecting three points out of a possible four in probably the most difficult fixtures against the teams who were relegated from Division 3 in 2010, several scoring chances were squandered as was also the case against Roscommon and this poor finishing was very frustrating indeed for the small crowd of loyal Longford supporters who made the trip north.
Apart from kicking a total of eleven wides during the course of this scrappy encounter that was littered with silly mistakes, Longford failed to convert at least three other goal chances before they finally found the back of the Fermanagh net in the 59th minute at a stage when just a solitary point separated the sides with the visitors leading by 0-5 to 0-4.
A number of players were involved in the excellent move that was engineered by David Barden and it was the Clonguish clubman who provided the perfect final pass across the face of the goalmouth for newcomer Mulligan to get the vital touch. The Longford Slashers player used his pace to fine effect in coming a lot more into the game on the changeover after struggling in the first half and is clearly a useful addition to the attack in the continued absence of Brian Kavanagh and the injured Francis McGee and Kevin Mulligan.
Defenders Enda Williams (long term casualty) and Peter Foy were also ruled out of the Fermanagh game due to their respective injuries (another newcomer Kevin Diffley is developing into a capable replacement for Williams at centre-half-back) and while Diarmuid Masterson (recently returned from a spell in the United States) made his first start of the year he lacked the fitness to make any sort of impact at centrefield and was eventually replaced by Martin Brady just before the break.
Brady gradually began to make a difference in the middle of the park against the strong Fermanagh pairing of Hugh Brady and James Sherry while Paddy Dowd figured prominently as the target man in the full-forward-line throughout the second half. Dowd fired over three points from play and was central to a lot of Longford attacks when the forwards eventually found the space to penetrate the opposing defence.
But the real stars of this terrific away win were the resolute defence who restricted the Fermanagh attack to just a single point from play. The home side registered a total of eight wides and generally found the going extremely tough against the tight marking Longford backs, inspired by Shane Mulligan and Dermot Brady who excelled throughout the game while Declan Reilly and Barry Gilleran were rock solid in the last line of defence during the second half to foil frustrated Fermanagh.
Once the goal went in Longford were never going to let this so important victory slip from their grasp and they pulled right away in adding three more points to their tally through wing back Noel Farrell (who was prominent in surging forward on quite a few occasions in the second half), Sean McCormack and Paddy Dowd – the latter blasting the ball over the bar when a goal was there for the taking.
Fermanagh almost failed to register a score in the second half but were spared that embarrassment when Terry O’Flanagan fired over a free with two minutes of normal time remaining. It was a very disappointing defeat for the Ulster outfit who could find it hard to achieve one of the two promotion places whereas revitalised Longford can look forward with great confidence to the remainder of the league campaign and will win again in the target practise exercise against Kilkenny at Pearse Park on Sunday next – followed by the trip to London a week later.
Four points from those two games will leave Glenn Ryan’s side in fine shape for the crunch clash away to Wicklow in Aughrim on Sunday March 13th and even at this early stage of the league campaign hopes are high that Longford will succeed in getting out of the dreaded Division 4.
They made the perfect start at ‘fortress’ Fermanagh with Sean McCormack on target from a tight angle with just 20 seconds gone on the clock but scores were scarce thereafter with the visitors managing just two more points during the remainder of the first half.
Having said that, Paul Barden was most unlucky not to score a goal in the 9th minute when his close range shot was parried against the post by the Fermanagh keeper James McGrath and while well struck points followed from Niall Mulligan (14 mins) and Sean McCormack (19 mins) that was as good as it got for Longford before the half-time whistle was blown.
Donal McElligott suffered the misfortune to slip when through for a clear-cut goal chance in the 24th minute and thanks to a couple of handy frees in the closing stages of the first half it was Fermanagh who led by the minimum of margins at the break, 0-4 to 0-3, with their four points coming from Tomas Corrigan (their only score from play after three minutes) and frees converted by Terry O’Flanagan.
Paddy Dowd, after making little impact as a third midfielder in the first half, provided a big threat when staying put in the full-forward-line on the changeover and after kicking over a couple of points he was then through for a goal chance only to have his shot blocked by the Fermanagh keeper who done well to keep his net intact in the 11th minute of the second half.
The fitter Longford team were now in complete control but failed to convert their superiority into scores as they shot four wides in quick succession and looked like pressing the self destruct button. That gave Fermanagh hope and they almost created a goal chance in the 56th minute but were denied by Declan Reilly who cleared the danger.
But the killer blow was eventually struck when Niall Mulligan fisted the ball to the Fermanagh net in the 59th minute and Longford, with a lot of hard work clearly done to date in the training programme, are now in pole position to claim one of the two promotion places.
FERMANAGH: James McGrath; Niall Bogue, Barry Owens, Michael Jones; Conor Quigley, Barry Mulrone, Paul McCusker; Hugh Brady, James Sherry; Paul McGrath, Niall Cassidy, Mark Little; Terry O’Flanagan (0-4, all frees), Tomas Corrigan (0-1), Paul Ward.
Subs:- Chris O’Brien for P Ward (48 mins); James Connolly for N Cassidy (48 mins); John Woods for N Bogue (48 mins); Tommy McElroy for P McGrath (53 mins).
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon), Noel Farrell (Colmcille, 0-1); Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard), Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore); David Barden (Clonguish), Paul Barden (Clonguish), Niall Mulligan (Longford Slashers, 1-1); Sean McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-3), Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Paddy Dowd (Clonguish, 0-3).
Subs:- Martin Brady (Sean Connolly’s) for D Masterson (32 mins); JJ Matthews (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s) for D McElligott (64 mins); William Crawford (Abbeylara) for S McCormack (70 mins).
Referee: Vincent Neary (Mayo).