In the countdown to the first ever senior football championship clash between the counties, the simple message for the Longford footballers is that they must make a lot better use of the scoring chances that come their way if they are to beat neighbouring rivals Cavan at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday next, throw-in 5pm, in the curtain-raiser to another All-Ireland Qualifier Round 1 game involving Louth and Meath (7pm) which is a repeat of last year’s highly controversial Leinster Final.
Therefore, a very big attendance is expected for the attractive ‘back door’ double bill and both Longford and Cavan are on the road to redemption in their desire to make amends for the early exits from their respective provincial championships. Glenn Ryan’s side were left to regret some very poor finishing in kicking a total of 16 wides in losing out to Laois by just a single point and cannot afford the same sort of wayward shooting if further progress is to be made in the qualifiers.
While Cavan crashed to a demoralising nine-point defeat against Donegal at Breffni Park (and it could have been worse), they are building for the future after winning the Ulster U-21 title this year and some of those young stars were among the seven newcomers that started for the seniors in the recent championship game – most notably the highly rated Gearoid McKiernan but he struggled to make any sort of impact in the difficult wet and windy conditions.
The same must be said about most of the Cavan team on that dismal day, although their cause suffered a severe setback when midfielder Ray Cullivan was sent-off for a straight red card offence (according to Sligo referee Marty Duffy) after only eight minutes and thus is suspended for the showdown against Longford.
The loss of Cullivan clearly upset the ultra defensive Cavan gameplan and while Donegal adopted similar negative tactics, they gradually asserted their superiority despite losing the services of their star forward Michael Murphy who was red carded for an off-the-ball foul on Damien Reilly in the 17th minute of the first half.
Cavan were always fighting a losing battle and as the second half progressed in the face of adversity they introduced considerable experience from the bench as Gareth Smith, Mark McKeever, Tom Corr, Cian Mackey and Michael Brennan were brought on. The indications are that those established players could all start in the qualifier with the pressure on the joint managers Val Andrews and Terry Hyland to navigate a win over Longford in the wake of the Donegal disaster.
The Cavan supporters will be demanding a victory at Breffni Park on Saturday next and home advantage in these tight situations is always a plus. Corner-forward Seanie Johnston is very much their key figure and Longford will have to contain the threat of the Cavan dangerman with Dermot Brady apparently the best man for the job.
Brady was outstanding in the disappointing defeat by Laois in the opening round of the Leinster Championship and his expected tussle with Johnston should be a fascinating duel, to say the least. With the often frustrating tactic of dropping forwards Donal McElligott and David Barden back to bolster the blanket defence system, the Cavan attack could be hard pressed to get the vital scores and this is a game that Longford are well capable of winning.
At one stage against Laois, no less than 13 Longford players were behind the ball (including goalkeeper Damien Sheridan) and the management team could endeavour to be a bit more adventurous against a Cavan team that are clearly there for the taking on the evidence of their dire display against Donegal in the Ulster Championship quarter-final.
Longford have enough quality in attack to amass a winning tally and while the accurate Sean McCormack continues to figure prominently in the scoring stakes, clocking up six of the nine points against Laois, a greater impact will need to be made by Paul Barden and Brian Kavanagh who have the ability to cause considerable problems for the Cavan defence, marshalled by John McCutcheon at centre-half-back.
Barden and Kavanagh will take some stopping if producing their best form but Longford could be facing a tough task in the battle for midfield supremacy against the probable Cavan pairing of David Givney and Gearoid McKiernan, a youthful but talented combination who are 22 and 20 respectively.
Bernard McElvaney has a lot more experience and hopefully he will put that to good use at Breffni Park in making his presence felt at centrefield. Although away from the home comfort of ‘fortress’ Pearse Park, the Longford players will be approaching the Cavan game in a fairly confident frame of mind and the possibility of another local derby against Leitrim (one of the beaten provincial semi-finalists) in the next round of the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
Cavan will also believe that they are good enough to emerge victorious and can point to a tougher National League campaign in a most competitive Division 3 this season that yielded wins over Waterford, Louth and Tipperary and a draw against Westmeath. There is a lot of pride at stake against Longford in this unique championship game that promises to be a cracker and a close encounter is in prospect.