Fancied to make a big impact in this year’s provincial championship, the Longford minors took another step in the right direction with a Leinster league title triumph achieved at the expense of Offaly at the Clonbonny grounds, Lanesboro on Saturday last.
Four points separated the sides in the finish with Cathal McCabe and Aidan McElligott scoring the all-important goals in the 26th and 37th minutes of a hard fought final and it must be said that Longford done extremely well to win this significant competition that comprised half of the counties in the country.
Eleven teams from Leinster were joined by Cork, Tipperary, Clare and Limerick and this success is a great boost for Longford in the build up to the tough championship clash at home to Dublin on Saturday April 19th, particularly without probably their best player David McGivney.
Mullinalaghta clubman McGivney has been out injured for a numbers of weeks but is expected to be back in action soon and could feature in the forthcoming Connacht Minor League campaign. Also on the casualty list at the moment is Ronan Sweeney (Clonguish), who was unable to play any part in the win over Offaly.
Even if Longford should happen to lose against Dublin in Round 1 of the Leinster Championship they will get a second chance through the back door in the qualifiers.
Manager Gareth Johnston (Rathcline) and the other members of the management team - Colin Dalton (Sean Connolly’s), Emmet Kenny (Kenagh), Tony Devlin (Clonguish) and Cian O’Brien (Rathcline)- are working really well with a talented squad but it might have been a different story in the league final on Saturday last but for a vital save by keeper David Shannon as early as the 8th minute.
Offaly, with the aid of the stiff wind, were dominating the exchanges to lead by 0-3 to 0-1 and a goal would have given them even more momentum. But Shannon produced a terrific point-blank stop to keep out a shot from opposing full-forward Shane Dolan and the visitors struggled thereafter.
All Offaly could manage during the remainder of the first half was a point from a Dolan free in the 18th minute while their other scores came from Ruairi McNamee (2) and Shane Tierney.
A point from Rian Brady in the 3rd minute when a goal was there for the taking was the best Longford could do before they finally got their act together with Conor Berry a real driving force at centrefield.
Full-forward Aidan McElligott was unlucky not to score a goal in the 16th minute when he flicked the ball narrowly wide but the Mullinalaghta lad created the opportunity for Longford to eventually find the back of the Offaly net in the closing minutes of the first half.
McElligott’s dipping shot was parried by the opposing keeper Kevin Kinihan into the path of the alert Cathal McCabe and he pounced to fire Longford ahead, 1-3 to 0-4, with the other points coming from frees converted by Rian Brady and captain Shane Kenny.
Most impressive at full-back throughout the game was Dessie Reynolds from Ballinalee, a real source of inspiration for the rest of the team, and Offaly were in deep trouble when Longford added another 1-2 to their tally in the early stages of the second half.
A cracking point from Shane Kenny with just 30 seconds gone on the changeover was followed by a fine score from the under pressure Aidan McElligott who shot over the bar and the same player then got the vital touch to direct a Kenny free to the back of the net.
Longford were now in a commanding 2-5 to 0-4 lead and stretched that advantage when Shane Kenny landed a terrific free in the 48th minute. Kenny was making his presence felt at centrefield in the second half and Offaly were fighting a losing battle.
But following a point apiece from the respective No. 13s, Ruairi McNamee (free) and a great strike from Rian Brady (play), the faithful county were given a glimmer of hope when substitute Christian Brazil found a way through to score a badly needed goal in the 53rd minute.
Two more Offaly points followed from Shane Tierney (free) and Jack Walshe as the gap was closed to just a goal with time running out but Longford made victory safe when the generally prominent Nigel Rabbitte shot over the bar just before the full-time whistle was blown.
LONGFORD: David Shannon (Carrick Sarsfields); Darragh McLoughlin (Clonguish Og), Dessie Reynolds (Clonbroney), Aaron Earley (Northern Gaels); Russell Brady (Northern Gaels), Cian Brady (Northern Gaels), Eoin Higgins (Granard/Ballymore); Shane Kenny (Western Gaels, 0-3, two frees), Conor Berry (Northern Gaels); Nigel Rabbitte (Northern Gaels, 0-1), Barry McKiernan (Northern Gaels), Cathal McCabe (St. Colmcille’s, 1-0); Rian Brady (Northern Gaels, 0-3, one free), Aidan McElligott (Northern Gaels, 1-1), Ciaran Donohoe (Killoe Og).
Subs:- Niall O’Farrell (Carrick Sarsfields) for A Earley (black card, 33 mins); Jayson Matthews (Northern Gaels) for C Donohoe (34 mins); Michael Corcoran (Clonguish Og) for Russell Brady (37 mins).
OFFALY: Kevin Kinihan; James Lawlor, Aaron Whelan, Paul O’Toole; Jack Egan, Jack Walshe (0-1), Jack McNamara; Killian Kiely, David Maloney; Ciaran Farrell, Adam Mangan, Alan Geogeghan; Ruairi McNamee (0-3, one free), Shane Dolan (0-1, free), Shane Tierney (0-2, one free).
Subs:- Colm Doyle for C Farrell (35 mins); Dylan Hyland for S Dolan (39 mins); Christian Brazil (1-0) for A Geogeghan (43 mins); Ryan Daly for K Kiely (45 mins); Clint Horan for A Whelan (black card, 47 mins).
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).