It took Longford quite some time to assert their superiority over Cavan in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifier Round 1 clash at Breffni Park on Saturday evening last but the visitors eventually clicked into top gear on the changeover to run out most emphatic winners by the wide margin of 11 points in the finish.
It was a crushing defeat for a poor Cavan outfit who started with five members of the U-21 team that reached the All-Ireland Final earlier this year and their tale of woe was complete when they ended up with 13 players on the pitch after Gareth Smith and David Givney were sent-off (second yellow cards) by the whistle happy Sligo referee Michael Duffy in the closing stages of the local derby.
Ironically, the home county were leading at half-time by the minimum of margins (0-7 to 0-6) but were fortunate to be in that position as Longford had enjoyed most of the primary possession. David Barden missed a clear-cut goal chance in the 20th minute when Cavan were trailing by 0-5 to 0-2 while Sean McCormack and Paul Barden were also in excellent positions to find the back of the net in shooting over the bar.
Even though Cavan extended their slender advantage when Niall McDermott converted a free with a couple of minutes gone in the second half, there was no need to panic as Longford got their act together to completely dominate the third quarter of the contest, scoring 1-4 without reply with the significant aid of the stiff wind.
McCormack won the ball in front of the posts and then supplied the perfect pass for Paul Barden to fire home the crucial goal from close range in the 49th minute - a fatal blow for Cavan despite their determined efforts to get back into contention. Seanie Johnston did close the gap when slotting over a free in front of the posts but back came Longford with a brace of points from McCormack frees to consolidate their firm grip on the game.
Cavan were trailing by 1-12 to 0-9 and fighting a losing battle and while they were given a glimmer of hope with a cracking point from a tight angle by Seanie Johnston, a dramatic revival was dashed by Damien Sheridan in the 60th minute with the Longford keeper producing a fine point-blank save to keep out a goal attempt from substitute Michael Brennan in the 60th minute.
Although Brennan pointed the resulting ‘45’ that proved to be Cavan’s last score of the game and things went from bad to worse for them when Gareth Smith was dismissed in the 65th minute while midfielder David Givney also received his marching orders in the 70th minute. It was a demoralising defeat, to say the least, and their inexperience was exploited by a fairly ruthless Longford side who played really well in the second half.
Having said that, just four points separated the sides with five minutes of normal time remaining but Longford finished very strongly to clock up another 1-4 with the goal coming from a well struck Brian Kavanagh volley in the 67th minute. Kavanagh was quick to pounce on the rebound after a shot from substitute Niall Mulligan was well saved by the Cavan keeper James Reilly and this was a very sweet victory over the neighbouring rivals who were humiliated in the end.
Kavanagh also kicked the ball over the bar in the late scoring spree that delighted the Longford supporters among the big attendance (over 18,000 for the two games) while the deadly accurate Sean McCormack landed another couple of points (free and play) to emerge with the impressive total of 0-9 to his credit. Substitute Colm P Smith also got his name on the scoresheet as Cavan were demolished and there was a lot to admire about the efficient manner in which Glenn Ryan’s charges achieved this excellent victory.
Confidence will be high going into the next round of the All-Ireland Qualifiers at home to Tyrone on Saturday week and while Diarmuid Masterson (a real driving force at centre-half-forward), David Barden and Shane Mulligan all figured prominently in the first half, it was Paul Barden who really grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half with excellent support in the attack from Sean McCormack.
That fact was clearly reflected in the total of 1-12 that Barden and McCormack registered between them while Brian Kavanagh also made his mark by scoring a goal and two points. So determined defender Dermot Brady deserves a lot of credit for the extremely tight marking job he inflicted on Cavan dangerman Seanie Johnston throughout the game while the other corner-back Declan Reilly was very much to the fore in the second half as Longford gained control.
Even against the wind in the first half, Longford were a lot sharper and looked the better side. But after racing into a fairly comfortable 0-5 to 0-2 lead with points from Brian Kavanagh (who got his side off to a flying start in the opening minute), three from Sean McCormack (two frees) with Paul Barden also on target, they wasted a glorious opportunity of blowing Cavan away when the clean through David Barden lost his composure in shooting wide with the goals at his mercy.
Prominent full-forward Eugene Keating fired over the early points for Cavan who gradually grew in confidence as the first half progressed and proceeded to enjoy their best spell of the game between the 22nd and 28th minutes which yielded four points in a row from defenders James McEnroe and Mark McKeever (a cracking long range strike) with Seanie Johnston (free) and Keating also on target.
Longford levelled matters in the 31st minute when Paul Barden shot over the bar when a goal was there for the taking but Cavan had the last say in the first half when Keating converted a brilliantly struck free from near the sideline to leave his side in a slender 0-7 to 0-6 lead at the break.
But the second half was a completely different ball game as Longford quickly wiped out the deficit, inspired by a marvellous point from Paul Barden, and Sean McCormack then fired over a couple of well struck frees before the unmarked Bernard McElvaney slotted the ball over the bar in the 48th minute in the best move of the match that was started back in the defence by Declan Reilly and also involved Diarmuid Masterson, David Barden, McCormack, Noel Farrell and Brian Kavanagh.
Moments later, the Paul Barden goal materialised to put Longford in a commanding position (1-10 to 0-8 ahead) and there was no way back for Cavan who have crashed to a very low ebb indeed.
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon), Noel Farrell (Colmcille); Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore, 0-1), Martin Brady (Sean Connolly’s); David Barden (Clonguish), Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard), Paul Barden (Clonguish, 1-3); Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 1-2), Sean McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-9, seven frees).
Subs:- Francis McGee (Dromard) for D McElligott (46 mins); Peter Foy (Cashel) for S Mulligan (55 mins); Niall Mulligan (Longford Slashers) for D Masterson (58 mins); Colm P Smith (Abbeylara, 0-1) for N Farrell (61 mins); John Keegan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s) for D Barden (69 mins).
CAVAN: James Reilly; Fergal Flanagan, Thomas Corr, Martin Cahill; Michael Brady, James McEnroe (0-1), Mark McKeever (0-1); David Givney, Gearoid McKiernan; John McCutcheon, Michael Lyng, Niall Murray; Niall McDermott (0-1, free), Eugene Keating (0-4, one free), Seanie Johnston (0-3, two frees).
Subs:- Gareth Smith for N Murray (19 mins); Ronan Flanagan for F Flanagan (42 mins); Michael Brennan (0-1, ‘45’) for J McCutcheon (42 mins); Cian Mackey for M Lyng (52 mins).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).