13 man Longford snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in their opening National Hurling League Division 3A game in Monaghan on Sunday last as they came from six points down in the 67th minute to win by a point.
After being reduced to 13 men in less than a minute with 5 minutes to go the writing looked to have been on the wall for Longford and when Hugh Byrne hit over two frees to extend his side’s lead to 6 points minutes later it looked like there was no way back for Longford but they showed unbelievable character to claim a dramatic win.
Gareth Ghee announced his return to hurling with two goals; his second being the match winner into injury-time.
Longford made a great start to the game and within seconds of the throw-in Cathal Mullane opened the scoring, one minute later Eoin Donnellan set up Ghee for his first goal and in the 5th minute the Longford Slashers man fired over a point.
Monaghan gradually started to get back into the game and in the 16th minute they levelled with two points apiece from Eanna McSuibhne and Byrne and one from Brian McGuigan. During that spell Longford keeper Paddy Cullen (another player returning to the panel) pulled off a great save to deny PJ Boyle.
A great point from Mullane and an Eoin Donnellan free edged Longford back in front but Monaghan replied with a goal and two frees from Byrne to lead by 3 in the 30th minute. Another free from Donnellan cut the gap to 2 just before the break to leave the score 1-7 to 1-5.
Longford started the second half like they had done the first and were level within the opening 3 minutes. Gareth Ghee and Eoin Donnellan (free) put them ahead by 2 in the 40th minute but Monaghan replied with a goal from substitute Conor McKenna in the 42nd minute to lead again.
Donnellan drew Longford level in the 44th minute with another free before Monaghan hit a purple patch and despite having chances Longford just couldn’t get the scores. With Byrne in fantastic form from deadball situations Monaghan had a real star and he punished Longford on a number of occasions. He hit over a ’65 in the 52nd minute to put Monaghan ahead and then fired over a wonderful free from about 75 metres out.
Two more points gave Monaghan a 4 point lead before first Conor Flanagan and then Conor Egan were sent off for second yellow card offences. The lead was 6 points minutes later with Byrne on target again but Longford showed a never say die attitude in the closing minutes. Eoin Donnellan goaled from a free and followed up with a pointed free before Gareth Ghee found the back of the net to snatch a fantastic win for Longford who now take on Donegal in Round 2 of the NHL at Pearse Park on Sunday next, 2pm.
MONAGHAN: Daithi MacGahan; Shane McNulty, Peter Treanor, Patrick Finnegan; Mairtin O’ Murchaidh, Kevin Crawley, Conor Boyle; Eanna McSuibhne (0-1), Trevor Hilliard; PJ Boyle, Mark Treanor, Hugh Byrne (1-9, 7f, 2 ‘65s); Brian McGuigan (0-1), Sean Leonard, Tony Forde.
Subs:- Cormac McNally for C Boyle (half-time); Conor McKenna (1-1) for T Forde (half-time); Raymond McNally for PJ Boyle (51 mins); Aonghus MacSuibhne for P Treanor (injured, 56 mins).
LONGFORD: Paddy Cullen; Rory Breslin, Brendan Stakem, Karl Murray; Conor Egan, Declan Tanner, Paul Barden; Kevin Conneely, Conor Flanagan; Conor Keegan, Cathal Mullane (0-2), Keelan Cox; Paddy Corcoran, Eoin Donnellan (1-6, 6f), Gareth Ghee (2-3).
Subs:- Johnny Casey for C Keegan (26 mins); Joe O’Brien for P Corcoran (47 mins); Gerard Moore for R Breslin (63 mins).
Ref: James Clarke (Cavan).