While Longford suffered yet another defeat in the opening round of the Leinster Minor Football Championship, they managed to produce a spirited performance in making it difficult for a strongly fancied Meath outfit and just a goal separated the sides in the finish at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday last.
Minus the services of their suspended manager Martin Mulleady (his ban was reduced from eight to two weeks after an appeal was lodged) and who had to watch the game from the terrace, the county minors under the guidance of the selectors Colin Dalton, Liam Belton and Gareth Johnston suffered the misfortune of conceding a penalty just before the half-time break and Meath corner-forward Barry Dardis fired home the decisive goal.
That was a significant setback for Longford, who were leading by 0-5 to 0-3 prior to the penalty goal in the 28th minute, and while they eventually lost the game there is considerable hope for the qualifiers and progress will certainly be made through the back door at the expense of Kilkenny who were crushed 8-30 to 1-0 by Offaly in the first round.
That away fixture was originally scheduled for the middle of next week but will apparently not be played to spare the Kilkenny minors further humiliation and thus Longford will move on to meet Laois (surprisingly beaten by Wicklow) in the second round of the qualifiers when a place in the quarter-finals of the championship proper will be at stake.
Meath are already through to the last eight and while they were hard pressed to get the better of a gallant Longford side the visitors had three clear-cut goal chances in the first half but were twice denied by competent Longford keeper Colm Farrell who made excellent point-blank saves, the second on the stroke of half-time.
Barry Dardis had a glorious opportunity of finding the back of the net for Meath in the early stages of the game when he shot narrowly wide but the visitors had a lucky escape in the 19th minute of the first half when Longford captain Ross McNerney came so close to scoring a goal - one of five first half wides for the home side.
Centre-half-forward McNerney was just inches off target with a low drive at a stage when the sides were deadlocked at 0-3 apiece. Rory Connor fired over a couple of early points for Longford with the lively Larry Moran also shooting over the bar while Patrick Kennelly, Cillian O’Sullivan and Eamon Wallace were on the mark for Meath.
Longford then went 0-5 to 0-3 ahead with well struck scores coming from Liam Connerton and Ross McNerney in the 22nd and 25th minutes and while they then conceded the penalty goal, Larry Moran pounced on the breaking ball to level matters with a fine strike in the 30th minute.
But Meath hit back with a point from a ‘45’ converted by Stephen Coogan to hold a slender 1-4 to 0-6 lead at the break and increased the advantage with a brace of further scores through Cillian O’Sullivan and Coogan (free) in the early stages of the second half.
While Longford replied with a score from a Rory Connor free in the 36th minute, impressive Meath wing forward O’Sullivan kicked another couple of points in quick succession before Coogan converted another ‘45’ to leave the royal county in a comfortable 1-9 to 0-7 lead midway through the second half.
Prior to the ‘45’ a goal attempt from Meath full-forward Eamon Wallace was deflected wide and Longford also created a decent opportunity of finding the net when Ross McNerney went racing through but his pass went astray and the danger was cleared.
Longford, to their credit, kept plugging away and following a terrific point from the prominent David McGivney in the 48th minute substitute Ciaran Mallon converted a free in the 53rd minute to close the gap, 1-9 to 0-9, and there was still a glimmer of hope for the home side.
In fact, the equalising goal might well have materialised moments later when midfielder Timmy Jackson failed to make firm contact with the breaking ball in front of the posts and his effort was deflected wide.
Meath made sure of the victory with a couple of more points through left-half-back Ruairi O Coileain and Cillian O’Sullivan (free) but Longford kept plugging away and their perseverance was rewarded with two consolation scores in stoppage time – a free converted by Ciaran Mallon while Larry Moran (play) was on target for a third time.
LONGFORD: Colm Farrell (Longford Slashers); Martin Mulligan (Colmcille), Cian Farrelly (Killoe), John Gill (Kenagh); Shane Clarke (Killoe), Aidan McElligott (Mullinalaghta), Emmet Noonan (Drumlish); Timmy Jackson (Granard/Ballymore), Andrew Dalton (Longford Slashers); Liam Connerton (Rathcline, 0-1), Ross McNerney (Colmcille, 0-1), David McGivney (Mullinalaghta, 0-1); Larry Moran (Killoe, 0-3), Rory Connor (Kenagh, 0-3, one free), Jason Earley (Abbeylara).
Subs:- Liam Sullivan (Granard/Ballymore) for E Noonan (half-time); Patrick Farrell (Carrick Sarsfields) for A McElligott (36 mins); Ciaran Mallon (Granard/Ballymore, 0-2, frees) for J Earley (45 mins); Killian Farrell (Ardagh) for L Connerton (49 mins); Gary Connell (Drumlish) for T Jackson (57 mins).
MEATH: Robert Burlingham; Jason Dowdall, Brian Power, David Toner; Declan Smyth, Shane McEntee, Ruairi O Coileain (0-1); Padraic Harnan, Adam Flanagan; Cillian O’Sullivan (0-5, one free), Patrick Kennelly (0-1), James McEntee; Barry Dardis (1-0, penalty), Eamon Wallace (0-1), Stephen Coogan (0-3, two ‘45s, one free).
Subs:- James O’Malley for J Dowdall (20 mins); Oisin Reilly for J McEntee (51 mins); Ciaran Gillespie for A Flanagan (51 mins); Niall Kane for D Toner (55 mins); Conor O’Brien for O. Reilly (62 mins).
Referee: Fergal Smyth (Offaly).