In what was a brilliant boost for Longford football, the magnificent minors have made it through to the Leinster Championship Final after springing a surprise to knock out a strongly fancied Meath outfit at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday last.
Make no mistake about it, the win was richly deserved and the county U-18s can now look forward to a crack at Kildare in the provincial title decider at Croke Park on Sunday week, July 12th.
A massive effort was put in right from the throw-in and there were a number of heroic performances, much to the sheer delight of the Longford supporters among the estimated 600 attendance.
The workrate right throughout the team was immense, with Peter Lynn (selected to start at left-corner-forward) operating effectively in the sweeping role of the extra defender, and other attackers Cathal McCabe and Darragh Doherty also dropping back to implement the gameplan.
It must be said that the entire defensive strategy was played to near perfection and which continually frustrated the big Meath team who were never allowed to settle into their stride, although they did enjoy a dominant spell in the final quarter of this intriguing contest to eventually get back on level terms (1-5 to 0-8) with time running out.
But Longford were in no mood to let a famous victory slip from their grasp and the fierce spirit and character they showed in producing a storming finish was right out of the top drawer.
After he missed a number of scoring chances, captain Conor Berry came good further outfield when it really mattered and after firing over a pressure free in the 57th minute to regain the lead for Longford the powerful Abbeylara lad went on to kick a glorious point from near the sideline in the 60th minute.
In between, Cathal McCabe had a shot deflected over the bar and Meath were trailing by 1-8 to 0-8 as the game entered stoppage time. They tried to engineer a dramatic last gasp equalising goal in the tense and exciting finale but it failed to materialise.
In an immediate counter-attack, orchestrated by inspirational corner-back Cillian Lee who dashed out of the defence, the ball reached substitute Rory Hawkins who played Peter Lynn through for the insurance point in the third additional minute.
So full marks to manager Tony Devlin and his fellow mentors Eugene McCormack, Colin Dalton and Michael Kenny for plotting the downfall of Meath despite the fact that Longford almost pressed the self destruct button at a crucial stage of the second half when a few chances were squandered.
From the moment Cathal McCabe raced through to score the decisive goal for Longford in the 7th minute, with his shot deflected to the net, the home side (with the selectors making a number of positional changes on the team) were hell bent on winning the match.
And they ended up leading by 1-3 to 0-3 at the break with a brace of points from Conor Berry - the first from a well struck â€˜45â€™ in the 15th minute.
Moments earlier, the target man was denied a goal when his close range effort was blocked by Meath defender Daniel Oâ€™Neill and the net was beckoning again for Berry when he shot over the bar in the 27th minute.
A great catch and subsequent sweet finish by Jayson Matthews accounted for the other Longford point in the 11th minute while on target for Meath were Thomas Oâ€™Reilly (two frees) and Ross Ryan in the early stages of the game.
The last of those scores came in the 8th minute and the royal county were well and truly rattled as they continually took the wrong options.
A last ditch tackle by full-back Ronan Sheahan in first half stoppage time prevented Meath from creating a goal chance and that highlighted the fierce commitment of the Longford team who were literally laying their bodies on the line for the cause.
But there was still a lot more hard work to be done, particularly as Meath now had the advantage of the wind in the second half, but Longford kept the high intensity going and stretched their lead with a terrific brace of points from Jayson Matthews, the second in the 39th minute.
Other chances were missed and while Meath eventually got another score when Thomas Oâ€™Reilly landed a point in the 40th minute, Longford regained the upper hand and should have put the issue beyond all doubt.
Conor Berry kicked a bad wide and then got in the way of a shot from Darragh Doherty that was destined for the back of the net. The rebound broke to Berry, who shot another wide, and then Doherty was guilty of missing a clear-cut opportunity for a point.
Meath were blessed to be only 1-5 to 0-4 in arrears and Longford then suffered a setback when centre-half-back Conor Farrell was forced to retire injured after hurting his hand and which will hopefully not rule him out of the Leinster final.
The pressure was mounting as Meath closed the gap with a point apiece from Thomas Oâ€™Reilly (free) and substitute David McEntee and Oâ€™Reilly then had a goal chance, only to be denied by Longford keeper Michael Hughes who produced a fine save to keep his net intact.
Moments later Oâ€™Reilly was on target from play and the sides were all square when Padraig McGowan (for once escaping the tight grip of his marker Cillian Lee) cut in from the left to land the equalising score in the 55th minute.
Most other minor teams would have buckled at this late stage but not Longford who really excelled in the closing stages to fire over four points in a row to clinch a wonderful win and underlining yet again the importance of home advantage in this grade.
And thus the county have qualified for the Leinster U-18 championship final they last contested in 2010 when they beat Offaly and are also into the All-Ireland quarter-finals on the August Bank Holiday weekend against Cavan or Derry. Happy days!
LONGFORD: Michael Hughes (Killoe); Michael Cahill (Carrickedmond), Ronan Sheahan (Longford Slashers), Cillian Lee (Killashee); Cian Brady (Abbeylara), Conor Farrell (Cashel), Kevin Sorohan (Rathcline); Enda Farrell (Carrickedmond), Joe Heaney (Sean Connollyâ€™s); Jayson Matthews (Mullinalaghta, 0-3), Peter Hanley (Clonguish), Cathal McCabe (Colmcille, 1-1); Darragh Doherty (Mostrim), Conor Berry (Abbeylara, 0-4, one free, one â€˜45â€™), Peter Lynn (Young Grattans, 0-1).
Subs:- Rory Hawkins (Colmcille) for J Heaney (24 mins); Ryan Moffatt (Killoe) for C Farrell (injured, 47 mins); Russell Brady (Abbeylara) for D Doherty (54 mins); Liam Barry (Longford Slashers) for R Sheahan (55 mins); Ruairi Harkin (Colmcille) for C Brady (58 mins).
MEATH: Jordon Browne; Danny Quinn, Daniel Oâ€™Neill, Conor Harnan; Tomas McGuinness, Robin Clarke, Ronan Ryan; Ronan Jones, Conor Nash; Eamon Oâ€™Donnchadha, Thomas Oâ€™Reilly (0-5, three frees), Adam Carey; Padraig McGowan (0-1), Brian Conlon, Ross Ryan (0-1).
Subs:- James McKeown for A Carey (21 mins); Caolach Halligan for B Conlon (half-time); David McEntee (0-1) for Ross Ryan (35 mins); Shane Walsh for Ronan Ryan (44 mins); Eanna Kelly-Lynch for E Oâ€™Donnchadha (44 mins).
Referee: Brendan Cawley