Dessie Reynolds on the attack for Longford against Armagh in the National Football League Division 3 game at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday last. Photo: Declan Gilmore
The Longford players must still be wondering how they ended up leaving the Athletic Grounds on Sunday last with nothing as Armagh snatched a most fortunate win in a dramatic finish to go clear at the top of the Division 3 table.
Armagh . . . 1-11 Longford . . . 1-10
It was rough justice, to say the least, as Longford were hit hard by some dubious decisions by poor Cavan referee Noel Mooney.
The man in charge of the whistle should not have allowed the late Armagh goal to stand after ignoring a foul on Donal McElligott, a definite free-out, and who then failed to penalise the scorer Ethan Rafferty for overplaying the ball in this decisive moment.
Rafferty cut in from the right to blast an unstoppable shot into the back of the net in the 68th minute to leave the sides all square and just when it appeared as if the game was going to finish in a draw up stepped Rory Grugan to land the winning point for Armagh in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Longford were shattered as the final whistle was blown moments later and very upset manager Denis Connerton must now concentrate on getting his team back on track for the vital home match against Wexford on Sunday week with promotion still very much a possibility despite this heartbreaking loss.
Forced to field without the injured Sean McCormack and whose brother Padraig McCormack was forced to retire after sustaining a knock to the head in the early stages of the National Football League clash, Longford suffered a serious setback when midfielder Andrew Farrell was sent-off after receiving a harsh enough second yellow card.
Down to 14 men with just four minutes gone in the second half, the midlanders were now fighting a real uphill battle in protecting their slender 0-8 to 0-5 interval lead as Armagh piled on the pressure and eventually got back on level terms despite kicking several wides.
Branding David McGivney with a black card in the 24th minute appeared to be another wrong call by the referee who further infuriated the Longford supporters when he dismissed Michael Quinn for the same supposed offence deep into stoppage time, just before Armagh kicked over the winning point.
It was the only time that they took the lead in this intriguing contest and it was a very lucky escape for Armagh, the general view among the relieved home supporters on leaving the grounds.
Having said that, between the 40th and 56th minutes it was Armagh who were well in control in outscoring Longford 0-4 to 0-1 with Dessie Reynolds firing over a cracking point for the visitors.
Rory Grugan (free), a brace from powerful corner-forward Ethan Rafferty and a terrific strike from centre-half-back Gregory McCabe accounted for the Armagh points but against the run of play Longford received a major boost when they were awarded a penalty in the 58th minute.
A great pass in from James McGivney picked out Robbie Smyth whose goal attempt was saved by opposing keeper Blaine Hughes but an Armagh back was punished for picking the ball off the ground and up stepped Donal McElligott to fire home a goal from the resulting kick.
When McGivney shot over the bar to extend Longford’s advantage to a comfortable four points (1-10 to 0-9) in the 65th minute, Armagh appeared to be dead and buried but battled back with a point from Niall Grimley (free) and were subsequently thrown a lifeline thanks to the goal from Ethan Rafferty.
The comeback was complete with the last gasp point from Rory Grugan and a first defeat in the league this season was very hard to take for unlucky Longford who had defended in such brave fashion throughout this tight game.
Some excellent scores were registered in the first half with three of Longford’s eight points coming from the boot of Robbie Smyth but he was also guilty of shooting three wides in providing a constant threat for the Armagh defence.
David McGivney, starting instead of his brother James, fired over a couple of frees with Daniel Mimnagh, Michael Quinn and Dessie Reynolds also on target while Ethan Rafferty (2), Stephen Sheridan, Rory Grugan and Ben Crealey were on the mark for Armagh in the first half.
Grugan was clean through for a goal in the 22nd minute but his point-blank shot was brilliantly saved by Paddy Collum who parried the ball over the bar.
Longford, looking very composed when in possession, fully deserved to be leading by three points at the break but the Armagh revival gradually materialised on the changeover and their perseverance was rewarded as they somehow managed to salvage a bleak situation.
ARMAGH: Blaine Hughes; Patrick Burns, Brendan Donaghy, Aaron McKay; Niall Rowland, Gregory McCabe (0-1), Mark Shields; Stephen Sheridan (0-1), Charlie Vernon; Ryan McShane, Aidan Forker, Niall Grimley (0-1, free); Rory Grugan (0-3, one free), Ben Crealey (0-1), Ethan Rafferty (1-4).
Subs:- Anthony Duffy for R McShane (45 mins); Michael Stevenson for B Crealey (61 mins); Joe McElroy for B Donaghy (62 mins); Aaron Findon for A Duffy (black card, 69 mins); Ryan Kennedy for S Sheridan (69 mins).
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum (Fr Manning Gaels); Patrick Fox (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s), Padraig McCormack (Killoe Emmet Og), Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s, 1-0, penalty); Michael Quinn (Killoe Emmet Og, 0-1), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Barry McKeon (Colmcille); David McGivney (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s, 0-2, frees), Andrew Farrell (Cashel); Dessie Reynolds (Sean Connolly’s, 0-2), Darren Gallagher (St Mary’s Granard), Daniel Mimnagh (Killoe Emmet Og, 0-1); Robbie Smyth (Abbeylara, 0-3), Conor Berry (Abbeylara), Rian Brady (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s).
Subs:- Peter Foy (Longford Slashers) for P McCormack (injured, 13 mins); James McGivney (Mullinalaghta St Columba’s, 0-1) for D McGivney (black card, 24 mins); Ronan McEntire (Dromard) for R Brady (47 mins); Darren Quinn (Clonguish) for D Reynolds (first minute of stoppage time); Diarmuid Masterson (Dromard) for M Quinn (fourth minute of stoppage time).
Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan).