While Longford moved a step closer to a place in Division 3 of the National Football League next season in getting the better of neighbouring rivals Leitrim at Pearse Park on Sunday last, they made hard work of scoring the crucial win and were hanging on in the finish with the visitors squandering a great chance of the equalising point in the 69th minute.
ALLIANZ NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE - Longford 1-8 Leitrim 0-10
The ball broke to Leitrim corner-forward Adrian Croal following a goalmouth scramble but his shot was blocked and the danger was cleared much to the relief of the Longford supporters among the estimated 1,500 attendance who watched their wasteful team kicked a total of 14 wides – eight in the second half of this tight local derby played in difficult windy conditions.
The narrow victory means that Longford will clinch promotion if they manage to beat Carlow in their remaining fixture at Pearse Park on Sunday next and will be facing former manager Luke Dempsey whose side are still in contention just a point behind in the Division 4 table with Wicklow also in the mix for the runners-up position.
It will be a real disaster if Longford slip up at this stage and must be fancied to overcome Carlow, particularly with home advantage. Should Glenn Ryan’s side succeed in getting the win they need to get out of the dreaded Division 4 there is also the bonus of a National League Final against Roscommon at Croke Park on Saturday April 23rd.
Therefore, there is a lot at stake at Pearse Park on Sunday and Longford will certainly have to improve on their finishing which was also poor in the defeat by Clare in the previous round. Had Leitrim not kicked seven wides in the first half, it might have been a different story and moving the influential David Barden to midfield at the start of the second half proved to be a very shrewd move in the absence of the injured Bernard McElvaney who was a big loss.
David was most impressive throughout this close encounter and with Diarmuid Masterson coming a lot more into the game in the second half in producing a commanding performance at centre-half-back, along with a fine display by corner-back Declan Reilly, Longford just done enough to come out on top and were lucky to survive in the tense and exciting finish.
Paul Barden’s goal in the 16th minute of the first half proved to be the decisive matchwinning score and it was a classy strike by the captain who planted the ball in the roof of the net after receiving the perfect pass from his brother David.
That left Longford leading by 1-2 to 0-2 with the points coming from Brian Kavanagh (2 mins) and Paddy Dowd (9 mins) while Emlyn Mulligan (frees in the 4th and 8th minute) replied for Leitrim who had to win to keep their promotion hopes alive and enjoyed a lot of possession in the first half.
However, they lacked a cutting edge in attack and only managed to register one more point during the remainder of the first half when Adrian Croal was on target from a tight angle in the 19th minute.
Longford were only marginally better in the scoring stakes with Paddy Dowd landing a well struck effort in the 18th minute and Leitrim had a goal chance soon after but full-forward James Glancy had his attempt blocked down by the industrious Paul Barden who dropped back to help out the defence.
It was against the run of play that the prominent Paul extended the lead for Longford (1-4 to 0-3) with a fine point just on the stroke of half-time and the Clonguish player almost scored a second goal with a minute gone on the changeover. Substitute Niall Mulligan burst through and passed to Barden who rounded the opposing keeper Cathal McCrann but made the angle extremely tight as he shot into the sidenetting.
That was a very lucky escape for Leitrim and while they quickly closed the gap with a point apiece from Conor Beirne (free) and Colin Kelly (play) in the space of a minute, Longford hit back with a brace of scores through Sean McCormack (free, 44 mins) and new midfielder John O’Shea (46 mins) who was making his first start for the county senior side.
Leitrim were beginning to catch Longford out on the counter-attack and they proceeded to enjoy their best spell of the game which yielded four points in a row through Conor Beirne (free), Adrian Croal (a terrific strike), James Glancy and wing back Wayne McKeon (a super score) between the 48th and 54th minutes.
The sides were now all square (1-6 to 0-9) and Longford were looking in trouble but a wayward pass resulted in another immediate Leitrim attack breaking down and directly from this costly mistake the home county regained the lead with a marvellous score from Paul Barden who shot over the bar from a very tight angle in the 55th minute.
Longford captain Barden was a constant threat to the Leitrim defence and moments later another substitute Peter Foy broke from the defence to land a point after receiving a pass from Donal McElligott.
But Longford failed to register another score during the remainder of the game as the wides continued to mount up and the pressure was back on when Emlyn Mulligan (first cousin of Shane and Kevin Mulligan) converted a free in the 63rd minute to narrow the gap to the minimum of margins.
Leitrim then suffered a severe setback when they were reduced to 14 players in the 66th minute, defender Wayne McKeon getting sent-off after receiving a second yellow card for a late tackle on Paul Barden, but they could have snatched a draw only for Adrian Croal to squander the opportunity of the equaliser from close range.
LONGFORD: Damien Sheridan (Dromard); Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Declan Reilly (Colmcille); Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta), Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard), Noel Farrell (Colmcille); Martin Brady (Sean Connolly’s), John O’Shea (Carrickedmond, 0-1); Paul Barden (Clonguish, 1-2), Paddy Dowd (Clonguish, 0-2), David Barden (Clonguish); Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta), Brian Kavanagh (Kilmacud Crokes, 0-1), Sean McCormack (Killoe, 0-1, free).
Subs:- Niall Mulligan (Longford Slashers) for M Brady (half-time); Kevin Mulligan (Mullinalaghta) for P Dowd (43 mins); Peter Foy (Cashel, 0-1) for S Mulligan (50 mins); Francis McGee (Dromard) for S McCormack (57 mins).
LEITRIM: Cathal McCrann; Dermot Reynolds (Annaduff), Ronan Gallagher, Paddy Maguire; Daniel Beck, Gary Reynolds, Wayne McKeon (0-1); Tomas Beirne, Robert Lowe; Conor Sheridan, Conor Beirne (0-2, frees), Emlyn Mulligan (0-3, all frees); Conor Kelly (0-1), James Glancy (Glencar/Manorhamilton, 0-1), Adrian Croal (0-2).
Subs:- Paddy McGowan for C Kelly (60 mins); Barry Prior for D Beck (60 mins); Shane Canning for R Lowe (64 mins); Ray Cox for J Glancy (68 mins).
Referee: Joe Curley (Meath).