Longford U-21s let victory slip as Westmeath snatch draw

Longford U-21s let victory slip as Westmeath snatch draw
On the brink of making further progress in the Leinster Under 21 Football Championship, Longford had victory snatched from their grasp when Westmeath defender John Rock surged forward to fire over the equalising point with virtually the last kick of the game in normal time.

On the brink of making further progress in the Leinster Under 21 Football Championship, Longford had victory snatched from their grasp when Westmeath defender John Rock surged forward to fire over the equalising point with virtually the last kick of the game in normal time.

Tang clubman Rock was the Westmeath saviour with that last gasp score and extra-time also failed to separate the neighbouring counties in a very exciting floodlit first round clash played in difficult wet and windy conditions at Pairc Ciaran, Newtowncashel on Wednesday night of last week.

Thus the sides must meet again in the replay at St. Loman’s GFC grounds in Mullingar this Wednesday night (throw-in 7.30pm) and Longford (minus the services of the injured Barry O’Farrell) are now facing a tough task to succeed at the second attempt in their bid to earn a crack at Laois at O’Moore Park in the quarter-final the following Wednesday, March 5th.

An enthusiatic attendance in the region of 500 braved the bad weather to witness wind assisted Longford dominate the best part of the first half at the compact Cashel grounds to lead by 1-6 to 0-4 at the break, the goal coming from a penalty converted by Barry McKeon in the 28th minute.

But soon after McKeon, impressive at centrefield, then suffered the misfortune of receiving what appeared to be a harsh black card (30 mins) for an infringement on a Westmeath opponent and the county U-21 captain proved to be a big loss.

Rory Connor also played particularly well in the first half in posing a lot of problems for the opposing defence and apart from shooting a couple of points (one ‘45’), he was also fouled for the penalty by Westmeath defender Rob Gorman who got away with a yellow card when the colour should have been black.

That was just one of a number of strange decisions by Offaly referee Fergal Smyth, who was particularly harsh on Robbie Smyth in the first half and why he blew the half-time whistle when the Abbeylara forward was about to shoot for a point remains a mystery.

Smyth, Rory Connor (2), Paddy Kiernan, Barry McKeon and substitute Andrew Dalton (replacing the injured Liam Sullivan after just nine minutes) accounted for the Longford points in the first half while on target for Westmeath were midfielders David McCormack and Dean McNicholas (early in the game) along with Shane Dempsey and centre-half-back Paddy Holloway.

While Longford should have been even further ahead at the break after shooting eight wides, they were under a lot of pressure right from the start of the second half with Westmeath - powered by the very prominent McCormack and Holloway - enjoying the vast majority of the possession with the advantage of the strong wind.

But after making a flying start on the changeoever with three points in quick succession through Holloway and a brace from Seanie Daly, Westmeath went on to waste several scoring chances in kicking a total of ten wides and were extremely fortunate to survive in a very tense finish.

Longford were also quilty of some more poor finishing in the second half with Robbie Smyth missing a couple of frees but the same player kicked a very good score in the 37th minute and other points from James McGivney (free) and Paddy Kiernan (on target in the 40th minute) in a good spell restored a comfortable lead for the home county.

After cutting the gap to just two points, Westmeath were now trailing by 1-9 to 0-7 and were starting to panic but they managed to keep Longford scoreless for the remainder of normal time in gradually keeping their championship hopes alive.

Starting with a point from Seanie Daly in the 45th minute, the Westmeath comeback gathered momentum and a further four scores followed from Alan Coffey, Lorcan Dolan (a cracking strike), Dylan McDermott and John Rock to snatch a draw, 0-12 to 1-9.

The game could have gone either way in the extra-time period with the sides sharing a total of six more points. Shane Dempsey (2) and Ger Leech (the last score of the match with four minutes remaining) were on the mark for Westmeath while Longford replied with a brace from Robbie Smyth (free and play) along with a Liam Connerton point.

When Connerton shot over the bar midway through the second half of extra-time, Longford were leading by the minimun of margins (1-12 to 0-14) and were looking the likely winners with the wind in their favour but a promising attack then broke down when another score looked like materialising.

That gave Westmeath renewed hope with Leech landing the equalising point and the visitors had a couple of chances to settle this thriller in the frantic closing stages, only to shoot wides much to the relief of Longford, but it must be said that a draw was the fairest result.

LONGFORD: Gareth Higgins (Carrickedmond); Cian Farrelly (Killoe Emmet og), Andrew Farrell (Cashel), Anthony McBrien (Abbeylara); Conor Shields (Clonguish), Stephen McLoughlin (Clonguish), Shane Clarke (Killoe Emmet Og); James McGivney (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s, 0-1, free), Barry McKeon (Colmcille, 1-1, goal from penalty); Paddy Kiernan (Killoe Emmet Og, 0-2), Rory Connor (Kenagh, 0-2, one from ‘45’), Emmet Noonan (Fr. Manning Gaels); Liam Sullivan (St. Mary’s Granard), Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 0-4, one free), Liam Connerton (Rathcline, 0-1).

Subs:- Andrew Dalton (Longford Slashers, 0-1) for L Sullivan (injured, 9 mins); Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe Emmet Og) for B McKeon (black card, 30 mins); Ross McNerney (Dromard) for R Connor (injured, 49 mins); Mattie Gorman (Ballymore) for S Clarke (60 mins).

Subs in extra-time: Fergal Sheridan (Colmcille) for C Shields (65 mins); Cormac Hughes (Colmcille) for P Kiernan (75 mins).

WESTMEATH: Michael McMahon; John Rock (0-1), Dermot Judge, Rob Gorman; David Lynch, Paddy Holloway (0-2), David Whelan; Dean McNicholas (0-1), David McCormack (0-1); Seanie Daly (0-3), Killian Daly, Alan Coffey (0-1); Eoin Monaghan, Lorcan Dolan (0-1), Shane Dempsey (0-3).

Subs:- Dylan McDermott (0-1) for D Judge (26 mins); Justin Barrett for D McNicholas (41 mins); Ger Leech (0-1) for E Monaghan (56 mins).

Subs in extra-time: Martin Rock for A Coffey (injured, half-time); Jack Donoghue for D Whelan (injured, half-time).

Referee: Fergal Smyth