Stepping up from winning the Lory Meagher Cup last year, the Longford hurlers found the going too tough in the emphatic defeat against a physically stronger Monaghan outfit in the Nicky Rackard Cup Round 1 game in Clones on Saturday evening last.
Goals at crucial stages of the game proved decisive as the superior Monaghan side (beaten finalists in the National League Division 3A title decider this season) cruised to a comfortable win over understrength Longford who were minus injured duo Bart Hanley and Cathal Mullane with the
suspended Paddy Corcoran also ruled out.
Mullane, who successfully appealed his controversial sending-off in the recent National League Division 3B final defeat against Warwickshire, was sorely missed in the attack and to make matters worse chief marksman Eoin Donnellan was forced to retire injured after only nine minutes.
Longford were given a glimmer of hope when Monaghan were reduced to 14 players in the 26th minute, corner-forward Fergal Rafter dismissed after receiving a second yellow card, and at that stage the midlanders were only trailing by a point, 1-4 to 0-6.
But Monaghan struck a big blow a couple of minutes later when Pauric Dowdall scored a scrappy goal with his boot following a scramble and stoppage time points from Stephen Lambe and Ronan Meegan left the home county in a comfortable 2-6 to 0-6 lead at the break.
With Eoin Donnellan gone, Longford were depending heavily on Joe O’Brien for the vital scores and he fired over four points in the first half including a well struck ‘65’ and a free with Cian Kavanagh and Luke Kelly also on target for the visitors.
O’Brien landed the opening score after just 20 seconds but Monaghan got their first goal from a penalty converted by Stephen Lambe in the 3rd minute and it was a lead they subsequently never surrendered.
The Monaghan points in the first half were registered by Ronan Meegan (3), Martin Murphy, Eanna Mac Suibhne and Lambe while Longford were unlucky not to get a goal in the 9th minute when a close range effort from Joe O’Brien was blocked out for a ‘65’ which he duly converted.
The 2014 Lory Meagher Cup champions made a bright start to the second half when Joe O’Brien fired over a free but Monaghan put the issue beyond all doubt in a short space of time following a point apiece from Pauric Dowdall and Mark Treanor (a brilliant solo strike) along with another goal from Dowdall who connected with a Stephen Lambe free to find the back of the net in the 45th minute.
Moments later, Longford suffered another setback when captain Martin Coyle sustained a finger injury and had to be taken off and the tale of woe was complete when Dowdall scored his third goal in the 59th minute following an excellent Monaghan move that also involved Ronan Meegan and Martin Murphy.
The losers added another three points to their tally, the first from a Joe O’Brien free in the 46th minute, while there were other consolation scores from Luke Kelly and O’Brien late in the game. The other two Monaghan points came from Stephen Lambe and Niall Garland.
County senior hurling manager Ray Gavin now faces a difficult task to lift his players for a second chance in the losers section at home to Donegal (beaten 1-12 to 0-11 by Tyrone in Round 1) at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday next (4pm) and another defeat will end Longford’s interest in the 2015 Nicky Rackard Cup Championship.
MONAGHAN: Kieran Hannify; Jamie Guinan, Kevin Crawley, Brian Flanagan; Deaglan Crowe, Aaron Kenny, Conor McKenna; Martin Murphy (0-1), Eanna Mac Suibhne (0-1); Niall Garland (0-1), Mark Treanor (0-1), Ronan Meegan (0-3, one free); Pauric Dowdall (3-1), Stephen Lambe (1-2, goal from penalty, one point from free), Fergal Rafter.
Subs:- Cormac McNally for B Flanagan (injured, 54 mins); Hugh Byrne for R Meegan (61 mins); Aonghus Mac Suibhne for P Dowdall (64 mins); Stephen Forde for N Garland (65 mins); Shane McNally for C McKenna (67 mins).
LONGFORD: Dara Duggan (Wolfe Tones, Mostrim); Gerard Moore (Clonguish), Brendan Stakem (Wolfe Tones), Conaire Flanagan (Oliver Plunketts, Mullingar); Kealan Cox (Wolfe Tones), Eoghan Kavanagh (Longford Slashers), Karl Murray (Longford Slashers); Johnny Casey (Longford Slashers), Paul Barden Jnr (Clonguish); Kevin Mealiff (Ballinamere, Offaly), Martin Coyle (Wolfe Tones), Luke Kelly (Wolfe Tones, 0-2); Joe O’Brien (Clonguish, 0-7, three frees, one ‘65’), John Mulhern (Wolfe Tones), Eoin Donnellan (Longford Slashers).
Subs:- Cian Kavanagh (Longford Slashers, 0-1) for E Donnellan (injured, 9 mins); Jamie Rosney (Clonguish) for M Coyle (injured, 46 mins); Stephen Farrell (Longford Slashers) for K Cox (50 mins); Rueben Murray (Longford Slashers) for J Mulhern (69 mins).
Referee: Gearoid McGrath (Dublin).