Robbie Smyth pictured in action for Longford against Donegal in the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Round 2A game in Ballybofey on Saturday evening last. Photo: Declan Gilmore
Longford were left to rue many missed chances in running Donegal close in Round 2A of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers and were eventually beaten by five points in Ballybofey on Saturday evening last.
Donegal . . . 0-12 Longford . . . 0-7
The nervous home supporters among the big official attendance of 9,915 were sweating it out for quite some time as brave Longford made it extremely difficult for Division 1 opponents Donegal in sticking rigidly to the immense defensive game plan that was proving to be very effective in this dour battle.
But that all changed in the 49th minute when the Division 3 underdogs were reduced to 14 players. James McGivney, booked in the early stages of the second half, was very harshly penalised with a black card for a harmless challenge on a Donegal defender and subsequently saw red as he was sent-off by referee Padraig Hughes who was extremely hard on Longford throughout the game.
The poor Armagh official was subject to a lot of criticism, and rightly so, from the large Longford following who travelled north in the hope that the qualifier specialists could succeed in performing another giant-killing act.
And those angry words were justified when you also take into account that two other Longford players were also dismissed, both for black cards. First to go was Daniel Mimnagh in the 25th minute of the first half and he was joined on the sideline by Darren Gallagher with five minutes gone on the changeover in what was a dubious decision.
Selected to start in the attack, Gallagher drifted out to the midfield area to put the pressure on Donegal’s main man Michael Murphy with solid support from John Keegan and David McGivney.
It had developed into a very frustrating struggle for most of the Donegal team and the sides were deadlocked at five points apiece before James McGivney was sent to the line in a severe setback for Longford in their bid to spring a major shock. Almost immediately the home county took the lead for the first time when Patrick McBrearty converted a free.
While Longford replied moments later with a well struck point from the generally prominent Diarmuid Masterson (their first score from play) in the 51st minute, the gaps gradually began to appear in the defence as Donegal capitalised on their numerical advantage.
A missed free by David McGivney was a significant blow for the visitors and then Liam Connerton lost the ball as he tried to burst through the opposing defence before Donegal made a decisive move to settle the issue.
Three points in a row through McBrearty (free), substitute Jamie Brennan and Eoin McHugh between the 55th and 58th minutes opened up a gap that should have been closed when Robbie Smyth was badly off target from a free and nothing went right for the ace attacker on this occasion.
Another poor scoring effort followed from Dessie Reynolds as Longford continued to press the self destruct button and while they were guilty of kicking a total of 16 wides, Donegal clocked up the same amount of missed chances in a very scrappy encounter that was dominated by the defences.
Donegal went four clear when Patrick McBrearty fired over another free in playing a crucial role in the hard earned victory. And while Longford pulled a point back when Robbie Smyth shot over the bar in the 67th minute, the home side finished the stronger with a couple of late scores from McBrearty and Michael Murphy frees.
It might well have been a different story had Robbie Smyth not flicked the ball wide when a goal was very much on in the 22nd minute and had he elected instead to catch the defence splitting centre from James McGivney a major score could have materialised in what was a lucky escape for Donegal.
Another key factor in Longford’s downfall was the four scoring chances (two frees) they squandered in quick succession early on in the second half while Donegal, mixing youth with experience, were able to bring on quality substitutes in Martin McElhinney, Mark McHugh and Karl Lacey and whose introduction was significant in the eventual outcome.
And so a satisfactory season is over for Longford, with their Division 3 league status secured along with a championship win over Louth, and something to build on for next year with a few U-21 players graduating into the senior squad.
Manager Denis Connerton, who admitted afterwards that he will consider his position for next season, was unfortunately minus the services of experienced duo Dermot Brady (unavailable due to a wedding abroad) and Sean McCormack (injured) for the championship clash in Ballybofey.
While Longford deserve great credit for really putting it up to Donegal, the attack unfortunately failed to fire and the poor finishing ultimately cost Longford so dearly in their quest to achieve a famous victory.
Scores were very scarce with Longford opening their account in the 3rd minute with a point from a Robbie Smyth free and they ended up holding a slender 0-4 to 0-3 lead at the break.
The other three points all came from frees converted by U-21 player David McGivney in the 13th, 21st and 32nd minutes as Longford failed to register a score from play in the first half.
Donegal did slightly better in that regard as Patrick McBrearty (a terrific long range strike in the 23rd minute) and Martin McElhinney shooting over the bar, the latter on target in stoppage time.
It was hard to believe that Donegal only managed a solitary score in the first quarter of the contest, much to the sheer dismay of the home supporters, and that came from a cracking long range free slotted over by Michael Murphy in the 6th minute.
The several wides (19 in total) recorded by both sides was the main talking point in a terrible first half and Longford extended their lead through a Robbie Smyth free with a couple of minutes gone on the changeover.
Donegal then got back on level terms with a point apiece from Murphy (free) and the influential McElhinney (play) with 45 minutes gone on the clock.
Then came a very big moment in the match when James McGivney was sent-off and with 14 players it was always going to be a real uphill battle from there on for gallant Longford who gradually faded out of contention.
Donegal, spurred on by the vociferous home crowd who played their part in the survival, got on top in finding some more space to shoot the vital scores in making it through to the next round of the All-Ireland qualifiers against Meath in the face of fierce resistance from the Longford bravehearts.
DONEGAL: Mark Anthony McGinley; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Caolan Ward; Ryan McHugh, Frank McGlynn, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Jason McGee, Ciaran Thompson; Michael Carroll, Martin O’Reilly, Eoin McHugh (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (0-5, four frees), Michael Murphy (0-3, all frees), Michael Langan.
Subs:- Martin McElhinney (0-2) for M Carroll (28 mins); Hugh McFadden for J McGee (48 mins); Jamie Brennan (0-1) for M O’Reilly (52 mins); Mark McHugh for F McGlynn (55 mins); Karl Lacey for M Langan (56 mins); Paul Brennan for E Gallagher (65 mins).
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum (Fr Manning Gaels); Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard, 0-1), Padraig McCormack (Killoe Emmet Og), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers); Barry McKeon (Colmcille), Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s), Michael Quinn (Killoe Emmet Og); John Keegan (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s), David McGivney (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s, 0-3, all frees); Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe Emmet Og), James McGivney (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s), Dessie Reynolds (Sean Connolly’s); Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 0-3, two frees), Liam Connerton (Rathcline), Darren Gallagher (St Mary’s Granard).
Subs:- Conor Berry (Abbeylara) for D Mimnagh (black card, 26 mins); Larry Moran (Killoe Emmet Og) for D Gallagher (black card, 41 mins); Andrew Farrell (Cashel) for B McKeon (66 mins); Ronan McEntire (Dromard) for D McGivney (66 mins); Joe Kelly (Ballymahon) for L Connerton (69 mins).
Blood sub:- Larry Moran for R Smyth (14 mins); Smyth back on for Moran (18 mins).
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).