Longford survive second half scare to seal back-to-back promotions

Croke Park is becoming somewhat of a lucky charm for Longford.

Some 12 months on from their Division Four league victory over Roscommon, Glenn Ryan’s all conquering charges made it back-to-back promotions as they overcame a steely Wexford side last Saturday evening.

It means the midlanders now go into next month’s all-important Leinster Championship opener with Laois brimming with confidence.

And should Longford overcome that hurdle, another clash with Jason Ryan’s outfit awaits in the quarter finals.

For the moment, however, the focus and enjoyment amongst football fans locally centres very much on the achievements of yet another sparkling performance at GAA headquarters.

Those celebrations were largely built on a superb opening half hour which saw Longford open up a seemingly unassailable ten-point lead.

Aided by the outstanding Barry Gilleran, who kept a tight rein on the dangerous PJ Banville throughout, the Division Three table toppers raced into an early four-point lead thanks to a hat-trick of scores from Sean McCormack and a fine effort from captain, Paul Barden.

Wexford’s only meaningful foray into Longford territory during a barren opening 20 minute spell came courtesy of Banville, as Longford established an almost vice-like grip on possession.

Not even the introduction of Lee Chin for the overran Niall Murphy in defence could interrupt Longford’s momentum, with Barden helping himself to two further scores.

With so much of the ball, perhaps it came as little surprise that almost all of Longford’s 14 outfield players began showing an insatiable desire to get in on the scoring.

Brian Kavanagh and Padraig McCormack epitomised that spirit soon after with two stylishly engineered points.

McCormack’s afternoon would come to an abrupt end moments later, but it was his replacement, Paul Kelly, who effectively decided the game as a contest.

Within seconds of coming on, the Longford Slashers half forward raced onto an exquisite Brian Kavanagh through ball to strike right footed beyond the despairing dive of Wexford goalkeeper, Anthony Masterson.

Another McCormack free ensured last season’s Division Four league winners went in ten points to the good at the break and with the prospect of another league title very firmly on the horizon.

But as is so often the case, the half time whistle was no doubt the sound Jason Ryan and his bewildered-looking backroom team were desperately yearning for.

In fact, if you didn’t manage to witness the first half, you would easily be forgiven for assuming the Wexford side who emerged for the second 35 minute period were a completely different set of 15 players to the ones that started.

Whether it was Longford complacency, Wexford resolve or perhaps a mix of both, the pre-match favourites came storming back.

Ciaran Lyng and Redmond Barry cut the deficit to eight after 41 minutes to give some much needed respite to an overworked Wexford rearguard.

Paddy Byrne and Rory Quinlivan were then introduced as Wexford looked to mount what appeared, at one stage, to be an unlikely comeback.

Unlikely became almost insurmountable in the 48th minute as McCormack edged Longford further ahead with yet another free.

Unperturbed however, Wexford kept asking questions of an increasingly jaded looking Longford midfield and half back line.

Banville and substitute, Shane Roche cut Longford’s lead to just six with fifteen minutes left, leading to some anxious cries amongst a sizeable blue and gold following in the stands.

Adrian Flynn and Redmond Barry’s first free of the game did little to ease those fears soon after as Wexford brought themselves to within four points of restoring parity.

Eric Bradley went one better in the 63rd minute to leave just a goal between the sides.

The next seven minutes must have felt like a footballing eternity to those sporting blue and gold as Wexford went in search of levelling matters.

Luckily, and perhaps deservingly from a Longford standpoint at least, it never came as the midlanders celebrated a second league title in as many seasons.

That said, Ryan and his backroom team are well aware the real acid test comes in a little over two weeks time against Laois.

Not that any of that will likely bother messrs McCormacl, Barden and company this week.

Whoever said Croke Park was an intimidating place in which to play football?

Longford: Damien Sheridan; Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleranm, Declan Reilly; Colm P Smyth, Michael Quinn, Shane Mulligan; Bernard McElvaney, John Keegan; Padraig McCormack, Paul Barden (0-3), Niall Mulligan; Donal McElligott, Brian Kavanagh (0-1), Sean McCormack (0-8, six frees).

Subs used: Paul Kelly (1-0) for Padraig McCormack (35 mins), James McGivney for Niall Mulligan (59 mins), Peter Foy for John Keegan (68 mins), Francis McGee for Donal McElligott (70 mins).

Wexford: Anthony Masterson, Rob Tierney, Graham Molloy, Niall Murphy; Brian Malone, David Murphy, Adrian Flynn (0-1); Andrew Shore, Daithi Waters; Redmond Barry (0-3, one free), Ciaran Lyng (0-4, three frees), Ben Brosnan (0-1); Colm Morris, Eric Bradley (0-1), PJ Banville (0-1).

Subs used: Lee Chin for Niall Murphy (19 mins), Paddy Byrne for Ben Brosnan (44 mins), Rory Quinlivan (44 mins) for Andrew Shore (44 mins),  Shane Roche (0-2) for Colm Morris (50 mins), Conor Carthy for Eric Bradley (70 mins).

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).