Longford maintained their excellent unbeaten record in Division 3 of the National Football League with a narrow win over Wexford at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday last to finish top of the table and keep the momentum going in the build up to the Leinster Championship first round clash against Laois at the same venue on May 20th.
While there was nothing at stake in this meaningless final fixture it must be said that the understrength home county showed a lot of character in coming back from three points down at one stage of the second half to eventually emerge victorious thanks to crucial goals from Brian Kavanagh and Michael Quinn in the space of a minute.
Injuries ruled out Bernard McElvaney, David Barden, Sean McCormack, Paul Kelly and JJ Matthews (the latter sidelined for a few weeks after breaking a bone in his arm) while rested were Damien Sheridan, Dermot Brady and Martin Brady.
The Longford team that started the game featured a couple of newcomers in Padraig McCormack and goalkeeper Paddy Collum while two more U-21 players Fergal Battrim and Barry McKeon were brought on in the final quarter of the contest.
With promotion already secured to Division 2 next season and the counties clashing again in the Division 3 League Final at Croke Park on Saturday April 28th, not much emphasis will be placed on last Sunday’s result in what was a warm up for the real thing but at least there were plenty of scores to entertain the attendance of around 400 who braved the cold conditions.
Wexford were also short several regulars as their manager Jason Ryan opted to give some other members of his squad a run and just seven of the team that featured in the promotion clincher win away to Antrim in the previous round were in action on this occasion.
Their most notable absentees were quality forwards Ben Brosnan and Redmond Barry along with powerful midfielder Daithi Waters and after this bout of ‘shadow boxing’ the stage is set for a cracking rematch in the title showdown at Croke Park at the end of the month.
But Longford are facing a serious cause for concern as the struggle continues to make the desired impact at centrefield and it was only when Michael Quinn was switched to this crucial sector on Sunday last that things got better after Wexford had established a 0-10 to 0-7 lead and were looking the likely winners.
The visitors were overcoming the handicap of having a player sent-off in the 30th minute of the first half when corner-back Sean Culleton was dismissed for a second yellow card offence. Longford held a slender 0-7 to 0-6 lead at the break, five of the points coming from Brian Kavanagh (three frees), while also on target were Padraig McCormack (making an impressive competitive debut for the county seniors) and Paul Barden who blasted the ball over the bar when a goal was on.
Kavanagh played really well throughout the game, kicking a couple of great points from play in the first half, and who clocked up another 1-2 on the changeover in emerging with the tremendous tally of 1-7 to his credit.
Wexford were extremely wasteful in the first half, shooting seven wides and had to be content with six points – three from U-21 player Michael O’Regan (two ‘45s) with Ciaran Lyng, Brian Malone and Shane Roche also getting their names on the scoresheet.
Dangerman Lyng (who scored 1-4 in total) had a close range goal attempt well saved by Longford keeper Paddy Collum in the 22nd minute and this talented attacker was a constant threat. Down to 14 players for the entire second half, Wexford came out with all guns blazing on the changeover to fire over four points in a row – a brace apiece from Lyng (free and play) and Michael O’Regan (frees) to lead by 0-10 to 0-7 by the 44th minute.
That was really putting it up to Longford but with Michael Quinn moving to midfield an immediate point from Brian Kavanagh lifted the home county who were awarded a penalty in the 52nd minute following a foul on the excellent Kavanagh.
But Paul Barden failed to convert the kick as his shot hit the post but soon after the captain raced through to set up Kavanagh for the opening goal in the 54th minute. Sixty seconds later the ball was in the back of the Wexford net again with Michael Quinn getting the vital flick after linking up with Donal McElligott and all of a sudden Longford were in control, leading by 2-8 to 0-10.
It was a shattering double blow for Wexford but they recovered to hit back with a brilliantly struck goal from Ciaran Lyng who planted a rocket of a shot into the roof of the net, giving opposing keeper Paddy Collum no chance whatsoever in the 59th minute.
The gap was now cut to just the minimum of margins but Longford responded in superb fashion with terrific points from Niall Mulligan and Brian Kavanagh to regain their grip on the game. The ding-dong battle continued with Shane Roche and Lyng landing scores for Wexford before Longford substitute Barry McKeon shot over the bar in the 67th minute.
Michael Quinn then converted a well struck ‘45’ to leave Longford 2-12 to 1-12 ahead and Wexford had the last say in the final minute of normal time when substitute PJ Banville converted a free. If this is a taste of things to come, then the serious stuff in the Division 3 Final at Croke Park suggests that a very exciting encounter is in prospect when a National League title will be at stake.
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum (Fr. Manning Gaels); Colm P Smyth (Abbeylara), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Peter Foy (Cashel), Michael Quinn (Killoe Young Emmets 1-1, point from ‘45), Noel Farrell (Colmcille); John Keegan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), John O’Shea (Carrickedmond); Padraig McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-1), Paul Barden (Clonguish, 0-1), Niall Mulligan (Longford Slashers, 0-1); Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), James McGivney (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 1-7, three points from frees).
Subs:- Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s) for J O’Shea (45 mins); Fergal Battrim (Abbeylara) for CP Smyth (54 mins); Barry McKeon (Colmcille, 0-1) for P Barden (59 mins); James McKenna (Sean Connolly’s) for P Collum (70 mins).
WEXFORD: Anthony Masterson; Niall Murphy, Graeme Molloy, Sean Culleton; Lee Chin, David Murphy, Aindreas Doyle; Brian Malone (0-1), Rory Quinlivan; Shane Roche (0-2), Ciaran Lyng (1-4, one point from free), James Holmes; Kevin Rowe, Michael O’Regan (0-5, two ‘45s, two frees), Paddy Byrne.
Subs:- Paudi Kelly for K Rowe (53 mins); Conor Carty for J Holmes (53 mins); Barry Hearne for D Murphy (56 mins); PJ Banville (0-1, free) for M O’Regan (61 mins).
Referee: Pat Fox (Westmeath).