Reigning Leinster champions Longford, backboned by just five players who featured in the provincial final win over Offaly last year, will have to come through the back door of the qualifiers in defence of the title after proving no match for a much stronger Kildare side in the first round of the current campaign at St. Conleth’s Park, Newbridge on Saturday last.
LEINSTER MINOR CHAMPIONSHIP - Kildare 1-15, Longford 0-8
After suffering a shock defeat when the counties clashed in the 2010 semi-final at Pearse Park, Kildare were really fired up to make amends and laid the foundations for their emphatic ten-point victory by completely dominating the battle for midfield supremacy in the first half with powerful No. 8 Gavin Farrell particularly impressive.
As a result the razor sharp Kildare attack received a constant supply of the ball and all six forwards had got their names on the scoresheet by the 20th minute, at which stage a costly mistake by Longford keeper Gareth Higgins – dropping a shot from Niall Kelly - gifted the home side a goal with Paddy Brophy left with the simple task of finishing the ball to the net.
That left Kildare in a commanding 1-7 to 0-0 lead, the points coming from Tony Gibbons (2, one free), Dean King, Barry Coffey (free), Farrell, Kelly and Fergal Conway, and it could have been worse for Longford as soon after Conway shot narrowly wide in his attempt to find the back of the net and then the rampant midfielder Farrell elected to fist the ball over the bar with the goals at his mercy.
A minute into stoppage time, Higgins came to the rescue in doing well to keep out a point-blank shot from Kelly and Kildare had to be content with a 1-10 to 0-5 advantage at the break with their other two points coming from Brophy and Kelly.
Longford were struggling badly in most positions on the pitch and they had to wait until the 21st minute for their opening score of the game - a cracking long range strike from James McGivney who fired over an even better point from near the sideline in the 26th minute.
Daniel Mimnagh (24 mins) and a brace from Robbie Smyth (free and play) in the closing stages of the first half accounted for the other Longford scores in a very disappointing first half display and Kildare could even afford the luxury of kicking seven wides and still establish a firm grip on the game.
Longford also missed a few chances in the first half and the poor finishing continued on the changeover with the ineffective Robbie Smyth shooting three wides in a row. The captain was clearly not at his best on this occasion and the same must be said of most of the players with the notable exception of the other U-21 team member James McGivney who was the one man who really stood up to the physical strength of Kildare.
While Cian Farrelly figured prominently at right-half-back in the first half, the Longford defence were generally under a lot of pressure - although there was some sort of an overall improvement in the second half with team manager Martin Mulleady and his fellow selectors Liam Belton, Colin Dalton, Kevin ‘Nixer’ Hughes and Albert Fallon forced to make changes with the maximum of five substitutes brought on.
Even at that Kildare still held the upper hand in outscoring Longford 0-5 to 0-3 with three of their points coming from Barry Coffey (two frees and a ‘45’) while wing back David Hyland and the always dangerous full-forward Niall Kelly were also on target.
The second half was hardly a minute old when Barry McKeon landed a great point from a tight angle but scores were scarce thereafter and Longford failed to register another white flag until the 56th minute when Robbie Smyth converted a free and repeated the feat deep into stoppage time.
Longford were guilty of kicking six wides in the second half with James McGivney going so c lose to grabbing a last gasp consolation goal while Conor Clarke’s decent attempt to find the back of the net in the closing minutes was blocked down.
The determined manner in which Longford tried to make it more difficult for Kildare in the second half suggests that the boys in blue and gold might do better in the qualifiers and probably have at least a 50/50 chance of beating Westmeath at Pearse Park on Wednesday evening next.
Westmeath were hammered 4-15 to 0-8 by a very strong Dublin side in the first round on Saturday last and should Longford succeed in crossing that hurdle the reward is another home tie in the back door against Wicklow the following Tuesday evening, May 3rd.
KILDARE: Shane McNamara; Barry Egan, Shane O’Hagan, Sean Higgins; David Duke, James Murray, David Hyland (0-1); Gavin Farrell (0-2), Daniel Flynn; Paddy Brophy (1-1), Fergal Conway (0-1), Barry Coffey (0-4, three frees, one ‘45’); Dean King (0-1), Niall Kelly (0-3), Tony Gibbons (0-2, one free).
Subs:- Conor Brady for T Gibbons (injured, 16 mins); Joe Sharpe for J Murray (51 mins); Gerry Keegan for F Conway (51 mins); Sean Christiansen for S O’Hagan (56 mins); Emmet Ralph for G Farrell (59 mins).
LONGFORD: Gareth Higgins (Carrick Sarsfields); Michael McHugh (Northern Gaels), Barry O’Farrell (Carrick Sarsfields), John Gill (St. Dominic’s, Kenagh); Cian Farrelly (Killoe), Brian Collum (St. Vincent’s, Drumlish/Ballinamuck), Conor Clarke (Longford Slashers); Timmy Jackson (Granard/Ballymore), Brian Walsh (Longford Slashers); Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe, 0-1), James McGivney (Northern Gaels, 0-2), Shane Clarke (Killoe); Barry McKeon (Colmcille, 0-1), Robbie Smyth (Northern Gaels, captain, 0-4, three frees), Cillian Lynn (Wolfe Tones, Mostrim).
Subs:- Gary Maguire (St. Francis, Dromard) for S Clarke (half-time); Podge Gill (St. Vincent’s) for T Jackson (39 mins); Andrew Dalton (Longford Slashers) for B Walsh (39 mins); Martin Mulligan (Colmcille) for J Gill (50 mins); Aaron Madden (Shannon Gaels, Rathcline) for C Lynn (50 mins).
Referee: Damien Brazil (Offaly).