It was looking like a desperate situation when Longford trailed Leitrim by five points (0-11 to 0-6) at a crucial stage of the second half but Jack Sheedy’s side eventually awoke from their slumber to take control and should probably have emerged victorious as the sides ended up level at the final whistle.
In fairness to Longford they showed a lot of spirit to get something out of this local derby, thanks to a cracking goal from Sean McCormack in the 67th minute which left them leading by the minimum of margins. But a very determined Leitrim side just refused to accept defeat and hit back immediately with a fine point from Ciaran Gilheaney to snatch a draw in the opening fixture in Division 4 of the National League.
A rather disappointing attendance in the region of 1,000 gathered at Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon on Sunday last to watch the neighbouring counties in action and while Leitrim (a team in transition) were fortunate to survive in the finish as Longford missed three good chances of grabbing the winning score in stoppage time, the general opinion was that a draw was the fairest result.
Longford must now focus on getting a vital win at home to Antrim on Sunday next and if that result can be achieved then their challenge for promotion can be treated seriously. However, the manager Jack Sheedy does not need to be told that a big overall improvement is going to be required for that to happen as for long spells against Leitrim the county looked a poor outfit indeed.
It was not until Michael Quinn finally began to motor at midfield that Longford managed to step up another couple of gears and the Killoe man got solid support from Ronan McEntire who was switched from right-half-forward at the start of the second half to take over from Barry Gilleran who struggled to make an impact in a new role for him.
Francis McGee (unable to start as he recovers from a hamstring injury) was introduced into a half-forward-line that was making no impact whatsoever and Longford were totally depending on Brian Kavanagh and Sean McCormack for the crucial scores - clearly reflected in the fact that the experienced duo clocked up 1-8 between them.
Kavanagh played particularly well in the full-forward-line throughout the game, setting up several scoring chances, and it was the Ardagh man who put Paul McKeon clean through for a glorious goal opportunity in the 15th minute.
That was one of 7 Longford wides in the first half, as compared to 5 for Leitrim who were playing with the much greater urgency and fully deserved to be leading by 0-7 to 0-5 at the break with their scores coming from midfielder Paddy McGowan (2), Kevin Conlan (free), three from dangerous full-forward Donal Wrynne and Fergal Clancy also on target.
McGowan and the extremely hard working James McGrail were on top at centrefield to ensure Leitrim went into the break in front while the five Longford scores in the first half were registered by Brian Kavanagh (2 frees), Sean McCormack (a brace from play) and Paul McKeon with McCormack’s second strike a fine effort from a tight angle in the 35th minute.
Francis McGee replaced Barry Gilleran during the break as the Longford mentors tried to turn things around and went close to taking the lead in the early stages of the second half as Sean McCormack had a goal attempt blocked by opposing keeper Cathal McCrann with Aidan Rowan following up to slot the ball over the bar.
Leitrim then went on to enjoy another dominant spell which yielded three points in a row through Kevin Conlan, impressive wing back Sean McWeeney and Donal Wrynne before Longford created another goal chance with defender Cian Farrelly surging forward, only to be denied by the competent McCrann who produced a fine save at the foot of the post in the 43rd minute.
County U-21 Farrelly had come on for the injured Enda Williams with 17 minutes gone in the first half and the prominent Killoe lad certainly made his presence felt as the game progressed. Another U-21 Ross McNerney (Dromard) made his first senior start in the right-corner-forward position and it is pleasing to see these promising young players getting their chance.
After the Farrelly goal attempt, Fergal Clancy landed a great score for Leitrim to leave them five points ahead and seemingly in a strong position and particularly so as subsequent shots from Paul McKeon and Sean McCormack dropped short into the arms of the home keeper.
It was becoming so frustrating for the Longford supporters but there was a glimmer of hope when Michael Quinn scored a point when a goal was there for the taking in the 48th minute.
All of a sudden the visitors began to enjoy a new lease of life as four more points followed in quick succession from Sean McCormack, Francis McGee and Brian Kavanagh (two frees) to leave the sides all square by the 55th minute and the excitement was mounting as the game improved considerably.
In between, James McGrail was guilty of shooting a bad wide for Leitrim who were then most unlucky not to get another vital score when a strike from defender Niall Woods hit the post - a lucky escape for Longford.
The general standard of the game was poor, despite the tense and dramatic finish, and it was littered with bad mistakes as possession was given away on several occasions - which led to Leitrim regaining the lead in the 58th minute when Ciaran Gilheaney shot over the bar.
But Longford were back on level terms in the 63rd minute when the industrious playmaker Brian Kavanagh kicked over a terrific long range point under pressure - only for Leitrim to hit back with a brace of points through Fergal Clancy (65 mins) and a Kevin Conlan free (66 mins) which deflected off the upright.
That was really putting it up to Longford but the goal they had been threatening to score all afternoon eventually materialised and was created by substitute Shane Doyle, who delivered a great pass into Sean McCormack who made no mistake in blasting the ball into the back of the net.
Leitrim were level moments later with a well struck point from Ciaran Gilheaney but Longford were most unfortunate not to go back in front in stoppage time when a shot from Francis McGee hit the upright and then Brian Kavanagh landed his close range attempt for the winning score short into the arms of Cathal McCrann.
One last chance fell to Colm P Smyth but he blazed the ball wide in a panic as time ran out but at least Longford can draw some comfort from picking up a point from the trip to Carrick (better than losing) and hopefully will get their first win in 2015 by beating Antrim at Pearse Park on Sunday next.
LEITRIM: Cathal McCrann; Barry Prior, Ronan Gallagher, Niall Woods; Conor Farrell, Gary Reynolds, Sean McWeeney (0-1); Paddy McGowan (0-2), James McGrail; Kevin Conlan (0-3, two frees), Fergal Clancy (0-3), Danny Beck; Thomas Mulvey, Donal Wrynne (0-4), Ciaran Gilheaney (0-2).
Subs:- Michael McWeeney for B Prior (injured, 5 mins); Cian Clinton for T Mulvey (40 mins); Matthew Murphy for C Farrell (black card, 49 mins); Shane Moran for J McGrail (56 mins); Alan McLoughlin for D Wrynne (62 mins).
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum (Fr Manning Gaels); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers, captain), Barry O’Farrell (Carrickedmond), Peter Foy (Longford Slashers); Colm P Smyth (Abbeylara), Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard), Enda Williams (Clonguish); Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Michael Quinn (Killoe Emmet Og, 0-1); Ronan McEntire (Dromard), Paul McKeon (Colmcille, 0-1), Aidan Rowan (Cashel, 0-1); Ross McNerney (Dromard), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 0-5, four frees), Sean McCormack (Killoe Emmet Og, 1-3).
Subs:- Cian Farrelly (Killoe Emmet Og) for E Williams (injured, 17 mins); Francis McGee (Dromard, 0-1) for B Gilleran (half-time); Padraig Gill (Fr Manning Gaels) for A Rowan (46 mins); Shane Doyle (Kenagh) for P McKeon (60 mins); Mark Hughes (Killoe Emmet Og) for F McGee (71 mins).
Referee: Liam Devenny (Mayo).