Referee Keith Callanan made sure that he was the centre of attention at the end of this crucial First Division clash against Waterford at the RSC on Friday night last, not hat-trick hero Sean Maguire.
The Cork official sent-off two Town players in the space of three minutes as this game swung in Waterford’s advantage in the opening quarter of the second half. Longford defender Willo McDonagh was the first to see red in the 56th minute for a challenge on Maguire. Waterford reporters covering the game felt it was harsh because there was no malice or intent in it because it seemed McDonagh had won the ball in the first place.
Three minutes later substitute Austin Skelly was sent-off from the bench after making a throwaway comment. It was a massive blow for the Town because Skelly could have come on and made a difference in this game as he is one player that Waterford fear playing against.
Callanan has a habit of dishing out red cards to Town players whenever he is in charge. He has sent-off six Town players so far and his terrible decisions on this occasion ultimately cost Longford this game.
This result was tough luck on the Town who didn’t deserve to be beaten. There have been games this season were they didn’t perform and rightly got their just rewards. On Friday they put in a great performance but came away with nothing in what was a cracking game of football.
The result ended Town’s title aspirations as Waterford United leapfrogged them into 2nd spot in the table. The way things are going it looks as if both sides will meet again in the play-offs at the end of October to determine who plays the bottom side in the Premier Division (probably Dundalk) in another two-legged play-off. Hopefully the FAI will see fit to appoint a Premier Division referee for the probable clash between Town and Waterford in a couple of games that warrant a strong referee.
This game changed in the opening 21 minutes of the second half when Waterford scored two goals to take the lead and the red cards were shown to McDonagh and Skelly.
After falling behind to a superb strike from Thomas Crawley in the 20th minute Waterford got back on level terms six minutes after the break. Town keeper Craig Hyland fluffed his clearance from Dylan Mernagh’s long ball and Maguire nipped in to score his first goal of the night. Minutes later Town were reduced to 10 men when McDonagh was sent-off for a challenge on Maguire. Three minutes later and to the amazement of the Town bench the referee brandished a red card at substitute Skelly who was in the dug-out.
In the 66th minute Waterford took the lead when Paul Phelan’s cross was finished to the net by Peter Keegan. The Town though were back on level terms three minutes later when Tony Griffiths grabbed his first goal for the club from a free-kick that got a slight deflection.
It really was end to end stuff and the action didn’t stop there as in the 74th minute the game swung back in Waterford’s advantage. Peter Higgins with the pass and Maguire with the finish for his second of the game and the youngster really has been in terrific form for Waterford this season.
Sean Maguire got the hat-trick his performance deserved in the 89th minute. Town defender Michael Lee was adjudged to have taken down the striker in the box and Maguire duly dispatched the spot-kick.
The first half had belonged to Longford and they really should have gone in at the break leading by more. Karl Bermingham, Crawley and Griffiths all had early chances for the visitors while Maguire brought a good save out of Town keeper Craig Hyland in the 11th minute.
The deadlock was broken in the 20th minute when Griffiths played the ball to Crawley (who was celebrating his 21st birthday) and from just outside the box he found the back of the net with a sweetly struck shot.
Both sides had chances after. In the 41st minute Crawley found the back of the net for the second time but his effort was ruled out for offside and just before that Karl Bermingham really should have made it 2-0 but he missed a sitter. Longford were to rue those missed chances on the changeover as the second half performance of the referee changed the course of the game.
WATERFORD UNITED: Pakie Holden; John Frost, Seamus Long, Craig Burns, Dylan Mernagh; Paul Phelan, Stephen Mulcahy, Gary Dempsey, Peter Higgins; Peter Keegan, Sean Maguire.
Subs:- David Breen for Mulcahy (91 mins); Willie John Kiely for Maguire (92 mins).
LONGFORD TOWN: Craig Hyland; Mark Salmon, Willo McDonagh, Aidan Collins, Michael Lee; Tony Griffiths, Colm James, Keith Gillespie, Robert Bayly, Thomas Crawley; Karl Bermingham.
Subs:- Chris Deans for Bayly (62 mins); Alan Kirby for Gillespie (77 mins); Darragh Reynor for Collins (84 mins).
Referee: Keith Callanan (Cork).