Ciaran Kennedy made his first appearance of the season for Longford 1st XV on Sunday last when brought on in the second half of the away game against Tullow in the Leinster Rugby League Division 1B.
Longford left the Black Gate grounds on Sunday last with just one point but had fate not twisted on a couple of occasions this could have been a clean sweep.
Tullow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Longford First XV . . . . . 22
To have run the table toppers so close on their home patch shows that this Longford side are serious contenders for the Leinster League Division 1B title but they have to temper that observation with the fact that they now rank fourth in the table, seven points behind Tullow.
Longford's journey to Tullow, the home of the 2016-2017 Provincial Towns Cup champions on a cold and wet day was always going to be a tough task. Longford knew they could ill afford to be off the boil and had to front up to Tullow’s attempt to bully the visiting pack in the early exchanges.
Tullow have not played the young, fit and determined Longford, which is sprinkled with a number of experienced players, in the past two seasons and in some way they didn’t know what to expect from the “surprise package”.
Longford players performed to the usual high tempo and exposed the Tullow defence in the early exchanges with the deft hands of Danny McHugh, Shane Rogers and Cormac Hughes. An overlap was exposed by Rogers and Hughes by carrying the ball in two hands and inviting Liam O’Hallahan to collect the pass. The fullback outsprint the defenders to score under the post, duly converted by Joe McGowan.
Tullow didn’t take too kindly to the early try and the backline, which boasted two South Sea islanders, put significant pressure on the visitors. Four consecutive penalties elicited a warning from the the referee and for the fourth Longford’s flanker Derek Farrell “took one for the team” when he was randomly picked out and issued with a yellow card.
Tullow took full advantage of the extra man advantage. They immediately scored a simple try exploiting the space out wide. The Carlow men then collected the Longford restart at pace. The power and speed of their Number 8 smashed the Longford defence and when he was eventually hauled to the floor he popped to the supporting centre to score under the post.
With Longford down to 14 men the ante was upped and the visitors had to fight tenaciously to avoid conceding any further scores. Derek Farrell's return was the start of a resurgence. They started to ask questions of the Tullow defence and despite a number of high tackles, none more so that a late and high tackle on Ronan Keith while collecting the ball in the air, Longford’s Joe McGowan slotted over an easy penalty to leave the score standing at14-10 to Tullow at half-time.
To the dismay of the travelling supporters Longford were awarded just two penalties in the first first half. The men from the Black Gate continued to get the benefit of the ref's calls in the second half and an early decision after the restart allowed them extend the lead to 17-10. Two further penalties brought the home side's tally to 23 with Longford stalled on 10 as the game entered the final quarter.
Showing great determination, Longford upped the tempo as their skill levels came to the fore. A well oiled-and-earned try by Longford loose head, Mick Bannon, was the first reward. Longford pummelled the Tullow line and Bannon smashed over for a five pointer, ably converted by Joe McGowan.
The Carlow side were reeling on the ropes now and Longford's superior fitness came to the fore. Tullow were run ragged and were there for the taking. Longford Kieran O’Gorman, Benny McManus and Derek Farrell notably carried ball after ball as Tullow were constantly defending their lines.
Danny McHugh showed his awareness with a beautiful chip over the advancing Tullow defence. The ball bounced into the hands of Joe McGowan who slid in for a beautifully worked try.
Unfortunately the conversion was narrowly missed which left the game at 23-22 to Tullow with five minutes remaining. At this stage, the local support was silenced as they were busy biting their nails and hoping the referee would blow the final whistle.
Longford were rightly awarded a late penalty to the left of the Tullow post which the referee allowed advantage to Longford and inexplicably brought the penalty back to a disputed position to where the original offence was committed, thereby adding pressure to the difficult kick.
Unfortunately Joe McGowan, who has been Longford’s hero on many a day, struck the penalty well but the ball drifted to the left and wide.
The miss was met with the delight of the large Tullow support with the final whistle blown at the next phase of play.
There is no doubt that Longford could have won this wonderful game of high stakes rugby and can be very proud of their performance in a very difficult place to play and look forward to another away match against North Kildare on Sunday next, kick-off 2pm.
Second place Suttonians surprisingly lost away to bottom of the table Portlaoise 21-0, allowing Longford to narrow the gap, to second placed Suttonians in the table to two points and sit in joint third alongside Kilkenny who were victorious at home to Coolmine but failed to pick up the bonus point.
The second series of games start next weekend with it all to play for and certainly Longford are in the hunt for league honours.