As Longford gears up to face Meath in the Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday, May 27, we take a nostalgic trip down memory lane to half a century ago when Longford recorded a famous victory over Meath in the provincial semi-final.
Longford people shed tears of sheer joy on Sunday, July 21, 1968 at Croke Park as they witnessed their senior footballers capture the county’s first and only Leinster Championship title with an emphatic 3-9 to 1-4 victory over Laois.
However, prior to dismantling Laois, the Longford men dispatched with the challenge of Dublin (1-12 to 0-12, June 2 in O’Connor Park, Tullamore) and reigning All-Ireland champions Meath (0-12 to 0-7, July 7 in Cusack Park, Mullingar).
Here are extracts of the report that featured in the 'Longford Leader' following Longford's memorable victory over the Royal County in '68.
"Shock results have been the feature of the Leinster Senior Championship this year with Laois removing Kildare and Offaly from the title race, and Longford disposing of Dublin and Meath.
Longford gave a masterly power-packed display of football to dethrone the Leinster and All Ireland Champions before an attendance of over 20,000 at Cusack Park, Mullingar, on Sunday last (July 7, 1968) and their convincing 0-12 to 0-7 victory entitles them to start as favourites to gain their first ever Leinster Senior title success at Croke Park on Sunday week (July 21, 1968).
Meath bidding for their third Leinster title in a row found that they just could not keep on winning, and there can be no doubt that the eager well-balanced Longford side ran deserving victors. They led 0-8 to 0-03 at half-time and at the final whistle they were still five points to the good.
Longford were not in the least bit overawed by the reputation of their opponents and five points without reply inside the first 11 minutes did much to set Longford well on the road to victory.
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Champs Never Led
As a result, Meath were in difficulty from the very start, and not once during the hour did the Meathmen forge ahead to take the lead. The nearest they came to Longford was in the 16th minute of the first half when they reduced the arrears to two points – 0-5 to 0-3. Longford pulled away again to secure a 5 point margin at the interval. Meath were in a challenging position at that stage, but instead of improving their position they fell further behind midway through the second half when the scores read 11 points to 5.
Meath were still in the game with a chance, however , but their position had worsened considerably. The champions tried very hard to close the gap, but could not draw any nearer than four points to their opponents, who had the last score of the game on the 21st minute. It was at this stage that Mickey Reilly was sent into the game and he more than anyone else broke the hearts of the rallying Meath men, who tried desperately to salvage their titles.
Longford's win was well received. A champion is seldom popular and Meath found that vocal support as well as Longford was against them on Sunday. Longford received the acclamation of all, and congratulations on behalf of the Meath team and Co Board were sportingly tendered by their Chairman, Rev. Father Tully, after the game.
Football throughout the hour was hard and fast, and although the referee (John Dowling) had occasion to enter the names of some players in his notebook, the same proved to be a rousing satisfying encounter.
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All praise to Longford for gaining such a fine victory. They showed their usual ability and skill, and looked like a fifteen that were trained to perfection. Fit and eager, they dictated the trend of play from the very start and seldom lost their grip on the exchanges. They just about got an even break at midfield and that was sufficient to swing the game. But above all, Longford proved those critics wrong who maintained they were not a team for championship football. In fact, this was Longford's best-ever display in championship football and there is much more in them than what we witnessed on Sunday.
Even balance and team-work played a big part in laying the foundation of this victory. The winners were not good just here and there, but were well served in nearly every department.
Jimmy and Seamus Flynn and Larry Gillen went into Sunday's game not fully recovered from injuries and in fact Seamus Flynn contemplated retiring at half-time. What a second half display he turned in ! Jimmy Flynn received treatment for his injury before the match and again at half time. Then there was Brendan Barden. Two weeks ago he got a knock on the knee during a training session and as a result he could not get in much training. During the week, Brendan was down with 'flu and was a very doubtful starter until Saturday. Mind you, he showed no effects of these setbacks on Sunday.
Coming down to individual performances, it is hard to decide where to begin as far as Longford are concerned. The forwards gave a demonstration of copybook football in the first half, were brilliant in the centre positions and cut lanes throuiugh the bewildered Meath defence. Sean Donnelly, Sean Murray (until he retired with a knee injury early in the second half), Jackie Devine and Vincent Daly also played a big part in the victory and contributed their share to many shrewd attacking movements.
Murray beat his opponent to the ball every time and it was tough on him to have to leave the game. Sean is a very doubtful starter for the Leinster final and we all hope that he will be fit to resume his position. Supporters rose to it on this occasion and gave him a deserved round of applause as he left the pitch.
Midfield was not very satisfactory. Jimmy Flynn came into the game in flashes and it's good to know that he has so much in reserve for the final. Tom Mulvihill played a hard hour and his display was a right good one considering all the travelling he had done the days previous to the game. Incidentally, Tom had nothing but praise for the Longford folk in New York who made his short stay a very pleasant one.
The Longford defence certainly rose to the occasion with Pat Barden having a really outstanding hour. His fielding and blocking were excellent snd he covered for his colleagues in geat style. John Donlon blotted out Matt Kerrigan and it was good to see the Cashel man back to something like his best form. Brendan Barden played soundly in the first half and really came into his own in the second. Seamus Flynn turned in a terrific display in the second half after a not to sound first 30 minutes. Larry Gillen was not as prominent as usual but at the same time his was a very steady display. During the hour Meath tried three full-forwards and none of them scored.
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Brother for Brother
J.P. Reilly, well, he must have been surprised when he was taken out of the game with less than ten minutes left for play. Up to that he played his part impressively, but everyone will admit that the introduction of his brother, Michael, was a master stroke on the part of the trainer and selectors, who were obviously making doubly sure that Meath would not “steal” this vcitory from them. And so the Reilly brothers combined to secure Longford's passage to their second Leinster final.
John Heneghan was one of Longford's brightest stars and he excelled in the back line of defence. When Ollie Shanley came through from midfield and parted to Paddy Mulvaney about six yards out, it looked like a certain goal for Meath. But Heneghan pounced on Mulvaney's shot to bring off a fantastic save which brought rounds of applause from friend and foe. A Meath goal at this stage early in the second half would have brought them within a point of Longford. Heneghan also had two fine saves to his credit near the end and Longford are fortunate to have such a fine goalkeeper.
Mickey Burns, who replaced Murray, tried very hard, and Brendan Gilmore, who came on when Pat Barden was knocked out in the closing minutes, was on hand to stop a Meath raid on the Longford goal.
Last Sunday proved to all the country, many Longfordians included, that Longford football is back in a very big way indeed. Let's hope that luck will be with the team when they bid to win that long-awaited Leinster title.
Longford - Mick Hopkins (0-4), Jackie Devine (0-3), Vincent Daly (0-2), Tom Mulvihill (0-1)
Meath – T Brennan (0-4) P Mulvaney (0-2) and E Maguire (0-1)