Trailing by 0-9 to 0-7 with just a few minutes remaining, Longford staged a spirited late comeback to snatch victory away from Westmeath in the floodlit Leinster U-21 Football Championship semi-final at Pairc Tailteann, Navan on Wednesday night thanks to three terrific points from JJ Matthews, Padraig McCormack and James McGivney (long range free).
Cadbury’s Leinster U-21 Football Championship Semi-Final
Longford . . . . . . . 0 – 10 Westmeath . . . . . . 0 – 9
Padraic O’Brien reporting from Pairc Tailteann, Navan
It was a wonderful victory for the Padraic Davis managed side who can now look forward with considerable confidence to the provincial title decider against fellow surprise-packets Wexford at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise on Wednesday night next, April 6th (throw-in 7.45pm) with a place in the All-Ireland semi-final against the Ulster champions (possibly Cavan) awaiting the eventual Leinster winners.
Longford looked in trouble against the hot favourites Westmeath when trailing by 0-5 to 0-1 with 21 minutes gone, their solitary score coming from a free converted by James McGivney in the early stages of the game, but they produced a strong finish to the first half that yielded three points in a row through John Keegan and current minors McGivney (free) and Robbie Smyth.
Thus Westmeath had to be content with a slender 0-5 to 0-4 lead at the break, four of their points coming from frees converted by Conor Lynam, and the second half was only 20 seconds old when McGivney fired over a cracking equalising point for Longford.
Adam Corroon then raced through to shoot over the bar in regaining the lead for Westmeath, only for Longford to hit the front for the first time with points from Smyth (free) and substitute Peter Reynolds, but it was looking good for the men in maroon when they added another three points (all frees) to their tally through Lynam (2) and Ian Coffey.
But Westmeath then suffered a severe setback when midfielder John Heslin was sent-off in the 49th minute after receiving a straight red card and that decisive factor gave the upper hand back to Longford who fired over three points without reply in the closing stages of the game to clinch a place in the Leinster U-21 Final for the first time since 2006 when they lost to Laois at Pearse Park.
LONGFORD: Paddy Columb (Fr. Manning Gaels); James Carroll (Rathcline), Fergal Battrim (Abbeylara), Aaron Quinn (Fr. Manning Gaels); Diarmuid Cooney (Fr. Manning Gaels), Colm P Smith (Abbeylara), Shane Mahon (Abbeylara); Kevin Diffley (Ballymahon), John Keegan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s, 0-1); Padraig McCormack (Killoe Young Emmets, 0-1), James McGivney (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s, 0-4, three frees), Marty Mulvey (Carrickedmond); Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 0-2, one free), Darren Gallagher (Granard St. Mary’s), JJ Matthews (Mullinalaghta St. Columba’s, 0-1).
Subs:- Paul Devine (Longford Slashers) for J Carroll (13 mins); Peter Reynolds (Dromard, 0-1) for D Gallagher (21 mins); Conor Keegan (Forgney St. Munis) for M Mulvey (47 mins); James Noonan (Fr. Manning Gaels) for R Smyth (56 mins); D Gallagher for S Mahon (61 mins).
WESTMEATH: Eoin Carberry; Ben Moran, Kieran Sheridan, Kevin Maguire; Mark McCallum, Kieran Martin, James Dolan; David Keenan, Darragh Daly; Adam Corroon (0-1), Conor Lynam (0-6, all frees), Ger Egan; Ian Coffey (0-1, free), Callum McCormack, Tommy McDaniel (0-1).
Subs:- John Heslin for D Keenan (33 mins); John Gilligan for A Corroon (53 mins).
Referee: Brian O’Shea (Dublin).