Longford bid to conquer Kildare in quest for
Leinster glory

The Longford Minor football squad, pictured before the start of the recent Leinster Championship semi-final against Meath at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park.  Photo: Kevin Leavy
Winning Leinster titles is a very rare occurrence indeed for Longford but it happened for the minors in 2002 and 2010 and the current crop of U-18 footballers will head for Croke Park on Sunday next in a confident frame of mind.

Winning Leinster titles is a very rare occurrence indeed for Longford but it happened for the minors in 2002 and 2010 and the current crop of U-18 footballers will head for Croke Park on Sunday next in a confident frame of mind.

After showing remarkable resilience to break down Meath in what was a massive effort, the players will have to produce more of the same true grit in the quest to conquer Kildare in the provincial title decider (throw-in 12 noon), curtain-raiser to the senior final between Dublin and Westmeath (2pm).

However, manager Tony Devlin and his backroom colleagues Eugene McCormack, Colin Dalton and Michael Kenny may have to plan without influential centre-half-back Conor Farrell (Cashel), who unfortunately sustained a broken bone in his hand during the second half of the semi-final win.

Farrell will be given every opportunity to recover and a decision on his involvement will not be made until the 11th hour. If he is unavailable he will be sorely missed.

The underdogs will certainly not be lacking in belief on the evidence of the fearless performance against a strongly fancied Meath team, winning by four points in the finish.

Just like in 2002 and 2010, there is a relentless spirit there as the county continue to cause upsets with powerful captain Conor Berry (Abbeylara) leading the charge for glory and the workrate all over the field in the final will be immense.

Whether it will be good enough to deliver a fifth Leinster minor championship title for Longford remains to be seen but the players proved against Meath that they are also capable of producing quality football and are clearly improving with every game.

Wins over Wicklow and Carlow in the earlier rounds did not reveal the real strength of the team but the actual potential of the minors reached a different level in the semi-final and will probably have to move up another gear against Kildare who are considered to be the firm favourites.

That high rating is mostly based on their impressive 3-16 to 3-13 win over the reigning Leinster champions Dublin in the semi-final at Croke Park but let us not forget that Kildare were actually beaten by Louth, 2-14 to 2-11, in the opening round.

While they made the most of their second chance through the back door, they were fortunate to overcome Offaly by a solitary point and it was the same slender margin that separated Kildare and Laois in the quarter-final.

Quite a few changes have been implemented by the Lilywhites minor manager Brendan Hackett (the Longford senior football supremo from 1987 to 1990) along the way and he got the perfect blend against Dublin as sweet revenge was gained for the 3-16 to 1-12 defeat in last year’s decider when Hackett was also in command.

In that same campaign Kildare got the better of Longford after extra-time (2-17 to 2-13) in a thrilling quarter-final at Pearse Park and starting for the unlucky losers on that occasion were Conor Berry, Jayson Matthews (Mullinalaghta), Cathal McCabe (Colmcille) and Cian Brady (Abbeylara).

All four will be in action for Longford in the 2015 Leinster final while Kildare can also call on a few players from the 2014 team, most notably Conor Hartley and Rory Feely.

Feely looks set to line-out at centrefield with Hartley in the half-forward-line while there is a lot of danger in the full-forward-line with Ciaran Kelly, Matthew Kelly and Jimmy Hyland providing a big threat in a very sharp attack.

Four points down at one stage of the semi-final against Dublin, a tremendous finish to the first half left Kildare leading by 2-11 to 2-5 at the break as the rattled opposition were left to rue a lot of missed chances.

And there was no stopping the rampant lilywhites as they established a commanding 3-15 to 2-9 advantage entering the final quarter of a cracking contest. Dublin hit back with a few points and got a consolation goal from a penalty in stoppage time.

But the general opinion was that the young Dubs were not as strong as in previous years, particularly with three key players ruled out due to injuries.

So Kildare are through to the Leinster minor final for the third year in a row in their attempt to repeat the success they enjoyed in 2013 when they scored a comfortable nine points win over Westmeath in the title decider.

But Longford will stick to the same rigid gameplan, a defensive strategy that continually frustrated the big Meath team in the semi-final, and will be going all out to do the same against Kildare who are also a physically stronger side.

Since the minors won the Leinster title against all the odds in 2010, some terrific results in both the U-18 and U-21 grades have been achieved by Longford - a small county who have been punching above their weight and who will go to Croke Park in the battle to blow out Kildare.

Getting off to a good start in the final will be a positive step in the right direction and such is the unpredictable nature of minor championship football that Longford have a lot of hope in their fierce desire to capture the Leinster crown.