With the draw working out well for Longford in this year’s Leinster Minor Championship, the county U-18 footballers have beaten Wicklow (away) and Carlow (home) to reach the last four but will be making a significant step up in class when they take on Meath at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday next, throw-in 3pm.
But home advantage is a definite plus for Longford in their quest to qualify for the provincial title decider against Dublin or Kildare at Croke Park on Sunday July 12th and the current crop of players will be quietly confident of springing a surprise against a strongly fancied Meath outfit.
Manager Tony Devlin and the other mentors Eugene McCormack, Michael Kenny and Colin Dalton have put in a lot of hard work throughout the campaign and it will be a tremendous achievement for all involved if Longford end up in the Leinster minor championship final they last contested in 2010 when they emerged victorious against Offaly.
Kildare were the red-hot favourites when they came to Pearse Park for the semi-final five years ago but lost out by a point to the totally committed home county who just refused to accept defeat - scoring three goals in the process of snatching a famous victory.
The present Longford team will have to produce that same never-say-die mentality if further progress is to be made at the expense of a Meath team who scored a convincing 1-17 to 2-8 win over Laois in the opening round and looked like the real deal.
While the royal county were subsequently very hard pressed to beat Louth by a single point in the quarter-final clash in Drogheda, the losers had already shown considerable promise after getting the better of Kildare in the first round and believed they had the potential to challenge for Leinster honours.
But Meath showed a lot of character to survive that stern test and with a couple of powerful midfielders in Conor Nash and Ronan Jones leading the charge, the odds are stacked against Longford causing an upset in the semi-final even with home advantage.
Neither Nash or Jones started when the counties clashed in the Leinster League back in February (although Jones was brought on) and while Meath were experimenting in trying out other members of their big squad they still managed to come out on top by a couple of points.
Having said that, eight of the eventual championship team (five starters and three substitutes) featured in that league game at Devine Park in Edgeworthstown when Longford almost scored a dramatic late winning goal with time running out.
Four of the regular Meath forwards were in action that day, notably Caolach Halligan, David McEntee, Thomas O’Reilly and Padraig McGowan, and this quartet are clearly a serious threat. O’Reilly and McGowan were the chief marksmen in the slender 0-12 to 0-11 championship win over Louth - scoring seven points between them.
Reflecting back to the Leinster league encounter against Meath, it is interesting to note that Longford also fielded an understrength team on that occasion with injuries ruling out Peter Hanley (Clonguish) and Cathal McCabe (Colmcille). Carrickedmond duo Enda Farrell and Michael Cahill, along with Conor Farrell (Cashel), were also unavailable for selection because of their involvement with Ballymahon Vocational who subsequently went on to win the All-Ireland Schools Senior ‘D’ title.
So Longford are now better equipped to really put it up to Meath in the match that really matters and big games will be needed from the main men on the county minor team - Conor Berry (Abbeylara) and Jayson Matthews (Mullinalaghta) - if the dream of reaching the Leinster final at Croke Park is to become a reality.
Berry and Matthews at their best can make a major impact while Peter Lynn (Young Grattans), Darragh Doherty (Mostrim) and Joe Heaney (Sean Connolly’s) are also capable of making their presence felt in the attack.
After managing to win just one of nine fixtures in the Leinster and Connacht Leagues earlier in the season, Longford were not expected to be contenders in the championship but a very kind draw has left them just one step away from a place in the provincial final and the players must believe in their chance of beating Meath.