Mullinalaghta defender Conan Brady dealing with the danger in this tussle with St Loman's Mullingar opponent John Heslin. Action from last year's Leinster Club SFC quarter-final. Photo: Declan Gilmore
With the powerful Dublin champions St Vincent’s in the other half of the draw, Mullinalaghta would appear to have a good chance of creating a piece of GAA history by becoming the first team from Longford to reach the Leinster Club Senior Football Final.
Standing in St Columba’s way are St Loman’s Mullingar, Simonstown Gaels Navan (Meath) and Starlights Enniscorthy (Wexford) and one of those four clubs will end up in the provincial title decider on Sunday December 10.
While Mullinalaghta manager Mickey Graham is a firm believer of taking one game at a time, a win over the Mullingar outfit at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday next (throw-in 2pm) will be a massive step in the direction of a Leinster final appearance.
The big question is can St Columba’s conquer St Loman’s at the quarter-final stage for the second year in succession and home advantage is a definite plus, which proved to be the case 12 months ago when the Longford champions sprang a surprise in a terrific two points victory, 0-14 to 1-9.
While James McGivney was in outstanding form as he fired over five points (all from play) in front of the 1,500 attendance at Pearse Park, Mullinalaghta goalkeeper Patrick Rogers also played a leading role in producing two vital saves.
Right at the start of the second half Rogers blocked a point-blank shot from the clean through Kieran Kilmurray with the Offaly native looking certain to finish the ball to the net. And the St Columba’s keeper really excelled when keeping out a flicked goal attempt from the same player in the 59th minute, at a stage when St Loman’s trailed by a solitary point, 0-13 to 1-9.
After taking out Tyrrellspass 3-13 to 0-14 in the county final a couple of weeks ago, despite playing the entire second half with 14 players after full-back Shane Flynn was sent-off in the 29th minute, the vastly experienced Westmeath three-in-a-row champions will be highly charged up in their quest to gain revenge for the Leinster defeat against Mullinalaghta last season.
St Loman’s star man is John Heslin, who clocked up the most impressive tally of 2-6 (six frees) including a wonderful goal direct from the throw-in against Tyrrellspass in the recent county title decider.
Whether he starts at centrefield or features in the target man role at full-forward, class act Heslin is a major threat while the other St Loman’s dangermen are corner-forwards Shane Dempsey and Ken Casey, the former Offaly player.
Westmeath senior regulars Heslin and Dempsey, along with Casey, registered a total of 2-11 in causing the bulk of the damage against Tyrrellspass while midfielder Paul Sharry is another key figure on the generally talented St Loman’s team who are managed by former Longford supremo Luke Dempsey.
Sharry, who also plays with Westmeath, will be hard stopped and with other useful footballers in Sean Flanagan, Kelvin Reilly and the competent half-back-line of Gary Glennon, Paddy Dowdall and David Whelan few can argue with the fact that Mullinalaghta are facing a tough task.
The Mullingar club have won the Westmeath SFC title four times in the past five years and are rated as the favourites to reach the Leinster semi-final they last contested in 2015 when they were beaten 1-11 to 0-9 by Dublin opponents Ballyboden St Enda’s who went on to win the All-Ireland title.
While St Columba’s will be quietly confident of repeating last year’s victory over St Loman’s they must produce the same high level of intensity with a lot depending on the impact John Keegan can make at centrefield in getting the ball into the sharp attack. The Mullinalaghta forwards possess plenty of scoring power with the ability to get the vital scores from a variety of angles.
If their defence, marshalled by Donal McElligott and Shane Mulligan, can keep it tight for most of the match then the Longford champions might well earn another home game against the Colm O’Rourke coached Simonstown Gaels or Enniscorthy outfit Starlights in the semi-final.
Leinster Club SFC Quarter-Finals
Rathnew (Wicklow) v St Vincent’s (Dublin)
Portlaoise v Moorefield (Kildare)
Mullinalaghta St Columba’s v St Loman’s Mullingar
Starlights Enniscorthy (Wexford) v Simonstown Gaels navan (Meath)
Rathnew or St Vincent’s at home to Portlaoise or Moorefield
Mullinalaghta or St Loman’s at home to Starlights or Simonstown Gaels