James McGivney pictured in action for Longford against Meath in the O'Byrne Cup semi-final in Navan on Sunday last. Photo: Declan Gilmore
Longford got a taste of things to come in the Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final at the end of May and the courageous performance they produced in really putting it up to a strong Meath squad on Sunday last is a considerable boost for the players.
Meath . . . 1-19 Longford . . . 2-16
Meath win 2-1 in free-kicks shoot-out
History was made at Pairc Tailteann in Navan as the O’Byrne Cup semi-final became the first ever GAA fixture to be decided in a free-kicks shoot-out as Longford unfortunately lost out to Meath in a dramatic finish after the sides had finished deadlocked at the end of normal time (1-12 to 1-12) and the extra-time period (1-19 to 2-16).
As darkness descended the frees (five apiece) were taken from the 45 metre line and it was the Royal county who eventually emerged victorious on a 2-1 scoreline with Mark McCabe and Cillian O’Sullivan on target to clinch a final spot against Westmeath on Sunday next.
Just Sean McCormack of the five Longford free takers managed to score in the unique shoot-out as Robbie Smyth, Paddy Collum, Barry Gilleran and James McGivney (with the agonising last kick) were all off target.
It must be said that Longford, who led by five points (1-6 to 0-4) in the early stages of the second half with Robbie Smyth getting the goal in the 32nd minute, were unlucky not to have won the match in normal time with a costly mistake leading directly to the crucial goal that Sean Tobin scored in the 58th minute to leave Meath in front by 1-10 to 1-8.
The home side then extended the advantage with a point from Joey Wallace but Longford showed great character and courage in storming back to level matters with Robbie Smyth converting a free before substitutes James McGivney and Darren Quinn fired over cracking points.
Tobin appeared to have won the game for Meath when he shot over the bar in the 70th minute but deep into stoppage time Robbie Smyth landed a glorious equaliser (1-12 to 1-12) and the Abbeylara ace then went close to snatching a last gasp winning score in shooting narrowly wide.
With their stronger bench proving to be a decisive factor, Meath had the better of the exchanges in extra-time and it looked all over when they established a comfortable 1-19 to 1-15 lead with time running out.
A brace from Robbie Smyth (play and free), along with another point from Sean McCormack, accounted for the Longford scores, but there was a late, late twist in this remarkable tale with Michael Quinn scoring a goal (after a shot from Darren Gallagher had hit the post) and Quinn then kicked over a point to leave the sides all square at the final whistle.
What happened next brought a great buzz to the big crowd at windy Pairc Tailteann and it was Meath who advanced to the O’Byrne Cup title decider after the tense free-kicks shoot-out in the fading light.
Longford can now concentrate totally on the National League with their opening Division 3 fixture away to Offaly in Tullamore on Sunday 28 January. Their confidence will be boosted by positive performances in the games against Louth, Kildare and Meath in the O’Byrne Cup and hopefully the players can keep it going.
Both Sean McCormack (denied by the Meath keeper) and Robbie Smyth (hitting the post) had goal chances in the early stages of the game in Navan on Sunday but Longford still ended up leading by 1-5 to 0-4 at the break following a very poor first half from the spectators point of view.
Rian Brady set up the goal for Smyth, who flicked the ball to the net from a few yards out approaching the break, while the Longford points in the first half were registered by Ronan McEntire, Dessie Reynolds (2) and Sean McCormack.
A Longford mistake was almost punished in the 22nd minute following a misdirected kick out but Paddy Collum made amends with a point-blank save from Bryan McMahon and he also denied James McEntee in the extra-time period.
Sean McCormack increased the advantage when converting a free early on the changeover but Longford were outscored 1-8 to 0-7 in the second half as the influential Meath substitutes made a big impact.
Rian Brady, Sean McCormack, Robbie Smyth (2), James McGivney and Darren Quinn accounted for the other Longford scores while tricky corner-forward McMahon fired over three of the Meath points - all from play.
The game improved a lot in the second half and extra-time followed before the intriguing contest was finally settled by the free-kicking shoot-out.
Former Roscommon player Mark Nally made his debut for Longford when brought on in the closing stages in the second half of normal time.
MEATH: Andrew Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Luke Moran, Mickey Burke; Donal Keogan, Brian Conlon (0-1), Shane McEntee; Bryan Menton (0-2), Adam Flanagan; Paddy Fennelly, David Toner (0-1), Graham Reilly; Bryan McMahon (0-4, one free), Ben Brennan (0-1, free), Thomas O’Reilly (0-2).
Subs:- Brian Power for B Conlon (half-time); James McEntee (0-1) for P Fennelly (half-time); Cillian O’Sullivan for D Toner (half-time); Sean Tobin (1-2, one free) for T O’Reilly (49 mins); Joey Wallace (0-2) for G Reilly (57 mins); Harry Rooney and Daniel O’Neill (0-2) for B McMahon (injured) and L Moran (stoppage time).
Subs used in extra-time:- Mark McCabe (0-1), Shane Glynn, D Toner.
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum; Patrick Fox, Padraig McCormack, Peter Foy; Michael Quinn (1-1), Barry Gilleran, Barry McKeon; Darren Gallagher, Andrew Farrell; Dessie Reynolds (0-2), Ronan McEntire (0-1), Daniel Mimnagh; Robbie Smyth (1-4, two points from frees), Sean McCormack (0-4, one free), Rian Brady (0-2).
Subs:- Pauric Gill for D Reynolds (half-time); Conor Berry for D Gallagher (48 mins); Donal McElligott for B Gilleran (48 mins); James McGivney (0-1) for R McEntire (52 mins); Shane Donohue for P Fox (65 mins); Mark Nally for A Farrell (injured, 65 mins); Darren Quinn (0-1) for D Mimnagh (65 mins).
Subs used in extra-time:- A Farrell, D Reynolds, D Mimnagh, D Gallagher, B Gilleran, Jayson Matthews.
Referee: Darragh Sheppard (Dublin).