The Longford ladies are enjoying a tremendous run of results this season under the driving force of influential new manager Diane O’Hora and after winning Division 4 of the National League, another title was captured at the Arklow GAA Grounds on Saturday last when they produced a most impressive performance to eventually wallop Wicklow in the Leinster Intermediate Football Championship Final.
There was little separating the sides in the first half with Longford holding a slender 2-4 to 1-4 lead at the break but the visitors – playing a most attractive brand of attacking football which yielded some excellent scores - really turned on the power on the changeover in adding another 1-12 to the emphatic tally with their superior fitness proving to be a decisive factor in running out easy winners in the finish.
Diane O’Hora is certainly giving youth a fling as the side that started in Arklow featured three of the most promising young players in the county – Aisling Reynolds, Michelle Farrell and Aoife Darcy who all played on the Longford U-16 team that won the All-Ireland ‘B’ title last year. Midfielder Reynolds and corner-forward Darcy were particularly prominent in the comprehensive win over Wicklow which suggests a strong showing in the 2012 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship.
That campaign starts on Sunday next with a home game against Tipperary in Group C at Emmet Park in Killoe (2pm) and the so well organised Longford squad will be hoping to qualify for the knock-out stages with other games against Cavan, Roscommon and Sligo.
Apart from the young guns already mentioned, the vast experience of Sharon Treacy is a very vital cog on the current Longford team and the attacking left-half-back played exceptionally well in the win over Wicklow as did the effective roving forward Anne Marie Bratten who emerged as the top scorer in the Leinster Final with a goal and three points (all from play) to her credit and collected the player-of-the-match award.
Longford laid the foundations for their latest success at centrefield where the dominant pairing of Jacinta Brady and Aisling Reynolds gave their side a decisive edge while tigerish defender Mairead Moore played really well with Marie Brady – back in action for the county team - also to the fore in the full-back-line.
Regular corner-forward Claire Greene was unable to start due to illness but she was brought on in the early stages of the second half and the accurate attacker proceeded to make a big impact in firing over four points (two frees).
It was a fine overall display by the Longford girls who were in a confident frame of mind coming into the game (themselves and Wicklow are the only teams in this competition and thus a straight final) and hopes of making further progress are bright going into the considerably higher standard of the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship.
Playing against the wind in the first wind at the Arklow venue, Longford were expecting a tough task against last year’s All-Ireland Junior champions Wicklow but the boost of scoring a couple of excellent first half goals was most significant in the eventual outcome.
Sharon Treacy, Michelle Farrell and Anna McDonnell were involved in the slick move that sent Anne Marie Bratten racing through to find the back of the net in the 11th minute and Aisling Reynolds displayed great skill to hit the target in the 18th minute after collecting a pass from Aoife Darcy.
The four Longford points in the first half were fired over by Anne Marie Bratten, Sharon Treacy (2) and Jacinta Brady while the Wicklow goal in the 23rd minute came from a penalty converted by midfielder Laurie Ahern.
Also on the scoresheet for the home county were Laura Hogan, Lucy Mulhall (two frees) and Eadaoine Lenihan but Longford stepped up another gear in taking over completely in a very one-sided second half.
Three points in a row through Aisling Reynolds and a brace from Edel Quinn early on the changeover left Wicklow struggling and while they managed to hit back with a score from Laurie Ahern, Longford quickly regained the upper hand to register another 0-4 in quick succession.
Aoife Darcy, a couple of points from substitute Claire Greene (free and play) and Anne Marie Bratten were on target between the 37th and 42nd minutes to put the issue beyond all doubt and another 1-5 followed during the remainder of the game with Jacinta Brady scoring a spectacular goal in the final minute of normal time.
The other points were fired over by Claire Greene (2), Aoife Darcy, Michelle Farrell and Anne Marie Bratten and it could have been worse for Wicklow but for a brace of excellent saves by their keeper Emer Miley to deny Sharon Treacy in goal attempts while young Darcy hit the crossbar.
Wicklow’s main threat, full-forward Lucy Mulhall, kicked three consolation points (two frees) for the losers who were outclassed in the second half as Longford won the Leinster Intermediate title for the fourth time in five years.
WICKLOW: Emer Miley; Aine Byrne, Sarah Hogan, Aoife Heffernan; Lorna Fusciardi, Claire Walsh, Sarah Miley; Jackie Kinch, Laurie Ahern (1-1, goal from penalty); Laura Hogan (0-1), Niamh Carroll, Aoife Kavanagh; Erinne Murphy, Lucy Mulhall (0-5, four frees), Eadaoine Lenihan (0-1).
Subs used:- Caoilfhionn Deeney, Loretta Gilbert, Rionach Craul and Sinead Fisher.
LONGFORD: Michelle Kilkenny (Dromard); Marie Brady (Clonguish), Elizabeth Brady (Killoe), Mairead Moore (Clonguish); Michelle Noonan (Carrickedmond), Lauren Farrell (Rathcline), Sharon Treacy (Killoe, 0-2); Jacinta Brady (Killoe, 1-1), Aisling Reynolds (Ballymore, 1-1); Anna McDonnell (Killoe), Edel Quinn (Killoe, 0-2), Sarah Tierney (Mostrim); Ann Marie Bratten (Killoe, 1-3), Michelle Farrell (Colmcille, 0-1), Aoife Darcy (Clonguish, 0-2).
Subs used:- Claire Greene (Rathcline, 0-4, two frees) for A McDonnell (35 mins); Emer Kiernan (Mullinalaghta) for S Tierney (40 mins); Sinead Farrell (Rathcline) for L Farrell (41 mins); Orla Noonan (St. Helen’s, Drumlish) for M Farrell (47 mins); Geraldine McManus (Miltown, Westmeath) for M Noonan (58 mins).
Referee: Pat Keogh (Carlow).