Sharp-shooting Longford save their best till last

Emphatic on the scoreline and dominant on the pitch, Longford earned promotion to Division Three with a facile win over a ragged Carlow in Pearse Park on Sunday last.

The added bonus comes in the form of a Division Four League final against neighbours Roscommon on Easter Saturday (April 23) next. The sides drew when they met in the opening game of the league campaign and Longford will look to emulate the county’s minor teams of recent years and lift some rare silverware at Croke Park.

The O’Byrne Shield win in 2007 was the last time have Longford lifted a trophy at senior level, but if they can reproduce the sharp-shooting form shown in this game, they will have a real chance of bridging that gap.

Longford made a slow start against Carlow, with inside forwards Daniel St Leger and JJ Smith enjoying the better of the early exchanges.

Paul Barden’s goal in the fourth minute, however, settled Longford who slowly began to work their way into the game.

David Barden, again outstanding in the opening half, looked to have lost the ball in the lead-up to the goal, but he battled back to win possession and stole inside his marker before unselfishly laying the pass for brother Paul’s tap-in to the Carlow net.

Evenly matched in the ten minutes that followed, St Leger’s free put cut Longford’s lead to just one (1-3 to 0-5) in the 18th minute.

That was Carlow’s last score of the half, as they lost their way somewhat against Longford’s greater hunger for the ball.

The home side went on to dominate the 20 minutes of action that followed and established a match-winning lead.

Remarkable stuff from Longford, not least because they didn’t shoot one wide in that time in what was the best period of play that Longford have produced this season.

Put simply, Carlow could not clear their lines. Longford were on top around the middle where Martin Brady and John O’Shea impressed.

There was plenty of help from half-forwards and half backs, who were quick to snap up any loose ball.

When the ball reached anywhere near Carlow’s forward line, defenders like Dermot Brady, Noel Farrell, Diarmuid Masterson and Declan Reilly were on top.

At the other end, Longford’s focal points were Brian Kavanagh and Sean McCormack. The runs forward were picked out, the passes were sticking, and most importantly the scores were going over.

Kavanagh was the marked man, and when he was fouled, McCormack was there to punish. When he managed to work himself free, the Kilmacud Crokes player gave a masterclass in finishing. The confidence was back as he stroked over four first-half points from play.

He saw plenty of the ball and got plenty of attention from Carlow defenders, which resulted in opportunities for McCormack to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

The Killoe Emmet Og also made a more than useful contribution from play, offering plenty of runs for his team-mates to pick him out. Five points in the first half (four frees), he added a further three from play in the second half.

Longford held a comfortable 1-13 to 0-5 lead at the break, but it took just 19 seconds of the second half to unsettle the home supporters when JJ Smith finished the ball to the net from close range.

Sean Gannon’s high ball in to the square led to panic among Longford defenders, which allowed Smith to collect and fire high into the roof of Damien Sheridan’s net.

However, just 90 seconds later Smith was back in the dressing room as Derek O’Mahoney produced a straight red card having spotted the Carlow forward lashing out at Longford’s Dermot Brady.

McCormack added a point for Longford, but just as it looked like the home side were on course for an easy win, Carlow rallied and scored the next three to cut the lead to six.

Over the next ten minutes, however, Longford settled any nerves with four points to Carlow’s two and so the visitors resorted to going in search of a goal or two.

High ball after high ball was lobbed in around Sheridan’s goal, but the defence – bolstered by the extra player - largely coped with that approach.

Both shots that threatened a goal came through the boot of Cormac Mullins. The first was blocked, at full stretch by Dermot Brady, while the second was a snap-shot from in front of goal that skimmed over the bar.

At the other end, Longford had a couple of chances to add a second goal in the final quarter of the game, but both Paul Barden and Sean McCormack opted to fist the ball over the bar.

Barden had another fine game in the blue of Longford. His block on St Leger’s shot for a point in the closing stages exemplified the work-rate he showed over the 70 minutes. Involved in much of Longford’s enterprising play, Glenn Ryan will be hoping for more of the same in the final against Roscommon.

Another key player in two weeks time is Paddy Dowd, who again operated in the play-making, centre-forward role with extreme confidence, and provided a vital link from defence to attack.

In the key role of centre-back, Diarmuid Masterson was again in top form, cutting out passes and mopping up loose ball, which he does to great effect. In the corners Dermot Brady and Declan Reilly both recovered from slow starts to get on top.

Of concern to the Longford management will be the leg tweak suffered by David Barden that forced him off early in the second half. Excellent last week in the game-changing move to midfield, he was again at the heart of Longford’s supremacy in the second quarter of the match and will be a key figure for the upcoming trip to GAA HQ.

It’ll be an interesting clashing at Croke Park, where Roscommon would be slight favourites given their unbeaten record thus far.

As for Division Three, which was the ultimate aim for Longford, it will be a big step-up, but it’s where they want to be if they’re to progress and develop this side into championship-challengers.

LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta), Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard), Noel Farrell (0-1, Colmcille); Martin Brady (Sean Connolly’s), John O’Shea (0-1, Carrickedmond); Paul Barden (1-4, Clonguish), Paddy Dowd (0-2, Clonguish), David Barden (Clonguish); Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta), Brian Kavanagh (0-4, Kilmacud Crokes), Sean McCormack (0-8, 4f Killoe).

Subs: Niall Mulligan (0-1, Longford Slashers) for D. Barden (inj, 40 mins); Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon) for O’Shea (58 mins); Peter Foy (Cashel) for Farrell, JJ Matthews (Mullinalaghta) for Kavanagh (both 64 mins); Francis McGee (Dromard) for Dowd (68 mins).

CARLOW: Trevor O’Reilly; Brendan Kavanagh, Tony Bolger, Paul McElligott; Kieran Nolan, Aidan Murphy, Paul Cashin (0-1); Darragh Foley (0-2), Thomas Walsh (0-1); Brian Murphy, Patrick Hickey, Ed Finnegan; Daniel St Ledger (0-5, 3f), Cormac Mullins (0-1), JJ Smith (1-1).

Subs: Sean Gannon (0-1) for Murphy (27 mins); Paddy Murphy for Cashin (55 mins); Eoghan Ruth for Finnegan (60 mins).

Referee: Derek O’Mahoney