“Have Longford any confidence at all?”, the words of one Longford spectator. “We live to fight another day”, the words of a Tyrone fan. Both statements chime an accurate portrayal of the battle that unravelled between a squad who lack that clinical sharpness to overcome opponents and a team trapped in a downward spiral from their glory pedestal. Patrons were forced to endure a delay to throw-in but the quality that followed was worth the wait.
This game was forecasted to be a silent highlight of the second round qualifiers. Even the bookies couldn’t dispense the chance of a shock Longford win giving them a 7/2 rate and so the theme of unpredictability percolated in Pearse Park. The silent murmurs of anticipation mixed with uncertainty hovered over the ticket holders as they weaved through the turnstiles.
And that complex atmosphere remained until the second minute of the second half when the Longford dream was dispatched by a scorching left foot shot from Mark Donnelly which yielded a decisive goal.
Up until then, the fairytale triumph for Longford was emerging to be a reality. The first half was a high octane exchange of scores that allowed players like Brian Kavanagh to flourish while the defence were a fitting match for Tyrone’s quick paced attack. That wasteful side we saw line out in O’Moore Park against Laois in May had a restored sense of belief and even wing back Noel Farrell registered his name on the scoresheet. Their confident first half performance rewarded them with a one point advantage heading into the break.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is by his nature a placid character but whatever he unleashed in the dressingroom at half-time, it instilled a renewed urgency in his charges. Within five minutes of the restart, they had registered 1-3 in a wave of blistering runs threading through the Longford defence.
But Longford thrive in the qualifier situation. They were never going to go quietly into the night and so they persisted. Kavanagh, McCormack and Francis McGee split the Tyrone posts and Dermot Brady and Declan Reilly patrolled the corners in the heart of the defence. But that elusive goal they so badly needed failed to materialise.
It was recorded that 8,000 supporters descended upon Pearse Park and the Longford proportion of that made their presence known. They voiced their cheers during periods of dominance and strived to inspire when Longford found themselves suffering a five point deficit.
However, reality crash landed to crush any sniff of a Longford revival. The experienced sharpness of Tyrone disposed of the boys of blue and gold and steered towards victory. Longford will be spared of the level of persecution they earned after the Laois encounter but this was also a game that could have been theirs. To have gone in at half-time a point up and then eventually lose by five is a scenario that is all too familiar for this county.
It’s another brief championship campaign for the team and another year stained with regrets. But it’s also a season that has seen some fresh faces filling pitch positions like Martin Brady, Kevin Diffley and Donal McElligott - indicating that a new era could be dawning.