A last gasp Robbie Smyth goal ensured Abbeylara got their senior championship quest off to the best possible start as they overcame near neighbours Mullinalaghta at Granard’s Higginstown Complex on Saturday evening last. And it was no more than Dessie Brady’s charges deserved as the 2006 county champions launched a stirring second half comeback, having trailed by three points at the break, 1-6 to 0-6.
Peter Hanley Motors Senior Football Championship Group 4 - Round 1:
Abbeylara 1-11, Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s 1-8
Billed as one of the stand out clashes on what was the first weekend of championship 2011 in Co Longford, both sides were acutely aware of the need to get their respective campaigns off to a solid showing in Group 4.
To add to the sense of anticipation as throw-in approached, both sets of players had the extra incentive of impressing Longford manager Glenn Ryan who mingled with a big crowd of interested and at times highly strung spectators.
It was Donal McElligott of Mullinalaghta and Abbeylara’s Robbie Smyth who captured most of the limelight on what was a perfect evening for football. Indeed, it was Smyth who broke the deadlock after just 20 seconds with a sweetly struck effort from all of 40 yards.
If Mullinalaghta fans were anxious to see their side look very much second best during the opening exchanges, they didn’t have to wait long for a response.
With seemingly little on, Gary Rogers smashed a speculative attempt towards the Abbeylara posts. There appeared to be little danger until Conor McElligott bravely stooped to fist the ball past onrushing goalkeeper John Joe Reilly. McElligott’s gallantry would however come with a price as he was forced off for quite some time for treatment to what looked like a nasty groin injury.
Robbie Smyth pulled a point back soon after, but Mullinalaghta’s impressive midfield pairing of Ruairi McElligott and John Keegan gave their side the edge in the first half.
Two quick fire Donal McElligott frees stretched the lead to three points but Robbie Smyth responded with two scores for Abbeylara while a Colm P Smyth point wiped out the Mullinalaghta advantage as half-time approached.
However, Donal McElligott’s accuracy from set pieces helped establish a three point cushion (1-6 to 0-6) for St. Columba’s at the break following a flurry of frees.
The second half got under way with Mullinalaghta’s Kevin Mulligan sweeping the ball over the bar with his trusty left boot less than a minute in but that would be their last meaningful foray on the Abbeylara goal for the next 29 minutes.
Four points down and in desperate need of inspiration, Bernard Crawford got the Abbeylara revival up and going with two frees in the 42nd and 45th minutes respectively. Robbie Smyth reduced those arrears further via another free two minutes later as ill discipline steadily began to creep into Mullinalaghta’s play.
Bernard Crawford then left goalkeeper Patrick Rogers clutching at thin air as his attempted strike on goal cannoned back off the post only to see James McEntire slot the loose ball over the bar and level matters at 1-7 to 0-10.
William Crawford then put his side ahead with nine minutes to play but the Mullinalaghta nerves were eased in the 61st minute as Gary Rogers wheeled away in delight after seeing his 30 yard effort sail between the Abbeylara posts. And in a further twist, the dismissal of Bernard Crawford for a second bookable offence only served to bolster St. Columba’s hopes of victory.
Deadlocked at 1-8 to 0-11, all eyes were on referee Frank Toher as stoppage time continued. Donal McElligott could and perhaps should have done better with a free and 45’, both of which drifted wide and those missed chances proved costly for St. Columba’s.
In the end, it was Abbeylara ace Robbie Smyth who proved to be the matchwinner in a dramatic finish as the elusive corner-forward bundled the ball into the net in the fifth and final minute of injury time.
ABBEYLARA: John Joe Reilly; Cormac Smith, Arthur O’Connor, Fergal Battrim; Colm Dalton, Colm P Smyth (0-1), Shane Mahon; James McEntire (0-1), Colm E Smyth; Brian Smith, William Crawford (0-1), Jason Kelly (0-1, free); Barry Smyth, Robbie Smyth (1-5, three frees), Bernard Crawford (0-2, both frees).
Subs:- Maurice O’Connor for J Kelly (37 mins); Michael O’Connor for Brian Smith (42 mins).
MULLINALAGHTA ST. COLUMBA’S: Patrick Rogers; Bernard Donohoe, Patrick Fox, Francis Mulligan; Conan Brady, Shane Mulligan, Pat Reilly; Ruairi McElligott, John Keegan; Simon Cadam, Donal McElligott (0-5, four frees), Conor McElligott (1-0); Gary Rogers (0-1), Kevin Mulligan (0-2), James McGivney.
Subs:- Mel Dermody for C McElligott (injured, 8 mins); C McElligott for B Donohoe (30 mins); Thomas McCabe for P Reilly (40 mins).
Referee: Frank Toher
(Killoe Young Emmets).