Longford defender Iarla O'Sullivan breaking away from Westmeath opponent Sam Duncan. Action from NFL Division 3 clash in early March Photo: Syl Healy
Boosted by the last ditch escape from relegation in Division 3 of the National Football League, the focus for the Longford players for the past few weeks is firmly fixed on the Leinster Senior Championship quarter-final against Westmeath.
TEG Cusack Park in Mullingar is the venue for the eagerly awaited clash of the neighbouring counties this Saturday evening (throw-in 6pm) and Longford will be quietly confident of springing another surprise.
That proved to be the case in the league encounter between the teams in early March when the warm favourites Westmeath crashed to a very disappointing home defeat.
That unexpected negative result ended up costing Jack Cooney’s charges promotion to Division 2 and a route out of the new second tier Tailteann Cup championship.
It might have been a different story but for the crucial penalty save by Longford keeper Paddy Collum who denied John Heslin a goal for Westmeath with three minutes gone on the changeover and that was a major turning point in the eventual outcome with four points separating the sides at the final whistle
While Heslin is still very much the dangerman for the Lake County, he was restricted to just two points in the league game a couple of months ago following a tremendous tussle with Longford full-back Andrew Farrell.
The simple message is that the serious threat of Heslin needs to be curtailed if Longford hope to reach the Leinster semi-final, a feat that was previously achieved in 2018 after the Denis Connerton coached county team scored a shock success over Meath at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park.
Laois native Billy O’Loughlin is now the man in charge and while the new manager described the Leinster Championship as a defunct competition due to Dublin’s total dominance, a win over Westmeath would be very sweet indeed.
As always, Longford will be depending on the key men Darren Gallagher and Michael Quinn making their usual big impact but Westmeath have a decisive edge in experience over the generally youthful opposition and will be hard beaten.
“Westmeath will be sore after losing to us in the league,” stated the county captain Quinn.
The Killoe clubman reflected on the changes in personnel in his decade on the panel.
“It is a different dressing room alright. “You would be hoping to have more lads in the mid to late 20’s but young faces are great. We have who we have and there is a lot of learning to be done”.
The National League might be considered a more important competition for the likes of weaker counties like Longford but the knock-out nature of the championship always brings on that extra excitement allied to the much bigger attendances.
Longford may be considered no-hopers in Leinster but any win that can be achieved in the championship will always be treasured when it has become such a rare occurrence for the midland minnows.
Special days like the win over Meath in the recent past gave the entire county a huge lift and the faithful Longford supporters will be heading to Mullingar on Saturday evening in the hope that their side can strike another blow for the underdogs.
Longford and Westmeath are meeting in the Leinster SFC for the first time since 2008 and on that occasion the men in maroon won the opening round clash at Pearse Park on a 2-10 to 1-10 scoreline.
The previous year it was Longford’s turn to taste the smell of success as they got the better of Westmeath 2-13 to 1-13 in the first round showdown at Pearse Park.
LAST FIVE CHAMPIONSHIP MEETINGS
2008: Westmeath 2-10 Longford 1-10 (Leinster first round)
2007: Westmeath 0-18 Longford 0-9 (All –Ireland Qualifier)
2007: Longford 2-13 Westmeath 1-13 (Leinster first round)
1999: Westmeath 3-17 Longford 2-9 (Leinster first round)
1998: Westmeath 3-14 Longford 1-13 (Leinster first round)
*This will be their 27th championship meeting, with Longford leading 13-10 and three draws from the previous 26 fixtures.
*Westmeath are bidding to reach the Leinster semi-final for a second successive year (they lost to Kildare); Longford were last there in 2018 (they lost to Dublin).
*Jack Cooney is in his fourth season as Westmeath manager. They won three and lost four of their seven championship games over the last three seasons.
*Westmeath (four wins, one draw, two defeats) finished third in Division 3 this year; Longford (two wins, one draw, four defeats) finished sixth in the same division. Longford won the head-to-head contest (0-14 to 0-10) in Round 3.
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