Longford blew a glorious opportunity of reaching the Leinster Junior Football Championship Final as Cavan snatched a last gasp goal through Martin Reilly to emerge victorious by the minimum of margins at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Wednesday evening of last week.
Backboned by players who featured for the County U-21s for the past couple of years, Longford led by two points when Padraig Gill fisted the ball over the bar in the closing stages of the game and looked to have done enough to clinch their place in the provincial decider.
But the pressure was put back on when corner-forward Robbie Smyth was sent-off in the 57th minute after receiving a straight red card in a silly off-the-ball clash with a Cavan opponent that was spotted by the linesman and the visitors struck the killer blow with time almost up.
Longford keeper Paddy Collum was slow to react to the danger in failing to deal with a centre from Martin Dunne and the alert Martin Reilly won the ball in finding the back of the net from point-blank range, much to the sheer dismay of the home supporters among the 200 attendance.
It was a shattering setback in the final minute of the match and Longford had no time to recover as Cavan celebrated a very lucky win in advancing to meet Kildare or Meath in the Leinster Junior Final on June 27th.
After trailing by a point at the break, 0-5 to 0-4, Longford were clearly the better team in the second half and manager Padraic Davis must still be wondering how his side managed to lose after establishing a comfortable four points lead at one stage.
But they ended up pressing the self destruct button in throwing the game away and there should have been no way back for Cavan who were completely outplayed in the third quarter of the contest.
Robbie Smyth was left with the relatively simple task of finishing the ball to the net after Padraig Gill had a shot saved by the opposing keeper James Farrelly with two minutes gone on the changeover and Longford quickly extended their advantage with points from Aidan Rowan (a well struck ‘45’) and Gill.
While Cavan replied with a free converted by Martin Dunne, back came Longford immediately with a point from JJ Matthews and then Darren Reilly had a great chance to put the issue beyond all doubt but his close range goal attempt was saved by Farrelly in the 40th minute.
Even at that Longford appeared to be in control, leading by 1-7 to 0-6, but Cavan were thrown a lifeline in the 46th minute with a goal from Martin Dunne that was set up by substitute Conor McClarey.
Longford recovered quickly with a terrific point from their best forward Padraig Gill and then Robbie Smyth shot over the bar. But Cavan closed the gap with a brace of scores from frees converted by Martin Reilly and Martin Dunne to make it very interesting indeed. Then came a third point from Gill which looking like settling the issue but Longford had victory snatched from their grasp in a dramatic finish as Martin Reilly grabbed the decisive matchwinning goal for Cavan.
It was rough justice, to say the least, and thus a most impressive display by Longford full-back Fergal Battrim was all to no avail. Both sides had disputed ‘points’ waved wide by the uncertain umpires situated at the town end goals, with Darren Reilly denied in the 25th minute of the first half although the lively Killashee player did get his name on the scoresheet in the early stages of the game.
The other Longford points in a poor first half came from JJ Matthews (free) and a brace from Robbie Smyth (play and free) while Sean Gaffney, Barry McKiernan (free), Martin Dunne (two frees) and Oisin O’Connell were on target for Cavan.
The standard of football improved considerably in the second half as Longford stepped up another gear but they lacked the killer instinct to finish Cavan off and were eventually pipped at the post in the race for the Leinster Junior title.
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum (Fr. Manning Gaels); Barry O’Farrell (Carrickedmond), Fergal Battrim (Abbeylara), Gareth Ghee (Longford Slashers); Aidan Rowan (Cashel, 0-1, ‘45’), Marty Mulvey (Carrickedmond), Stephen Lynch (Granard St. Mary’s); Conor Quaine (Legan Sarsfields), Johnny Kane (Fr. Manning Gaels); Ger Dennigan (Cashel), Barry McKeon (Colmcille), Padraig Gill (Fr. Manning Gaels, 0-3); Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 1-3, one point from free), Darren Reilly (Killashee St. Brigid’s, 0-1), JJ Matthews (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s, 0-2, one free).
Subs:- Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe Young Emmets) for M Mulvey (34 mins); Diarmuid Cooney (Fr. Manning Gaels) for S Lynch (41 mins); Ronan Keogh (Killoe Young Emmets) for C Quaine (48 mins); Kevin Burke (Clonguish) for G Dennigan (51 mins).
CAVAN: James Farrelly; Darragh Tighe, Damien Barkey, Fergal Slowey; Killian Brady, Joshua Hayes, Enda O’Connell; Sean Gaffney (0-1), Brendan Murray; Chris Conroy, Martin Reilly (1-1, point from free), Keith Fannin; Oisin O’Connell (0-1), Barry McKiernan (0-1, free), Martin Dunne (1-4, all points from frees).
Subs:- Conor McClarey for B McKiernan (28 mins); Dara Sexton for K Brady ( half-time); Darren Tiernan for O O’Connell (50 mins); Paul O’Connor for K Fannin (60 mins).
Referee: Niall Ward (Westmeath).