The jubilant Longford Town players celebrate their promotion to the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division following the great win over Shels at Richmond Park on Sunday last Pic: Syl Healy
Another exciting chapter in the proud story of Longford Town FC materialised at Richmond Park in Inchicore on Sunday last when promotion back to the top flight of the Airtricity League was achieved.
Longford Town . . . 1 Shelbourne . . . 0
While Rob Manley was the hero in the wonderful win over Shelbourne with the striker scoring the decisive only goal in the 54th minute, this was a terrific team effort as the midlands club made a return to the Premier Division for the first time since 2016.
Manager Daire Doyle deserves a lot of credit for this tremendous success in a very strange year as his totally committed side built on the momentum that carried them through the First Division play-offs against UCD and Galway United.
That self belief and confident frame of mind was so evident in the promotion/relegation showdown played behind closed doors and while the conditions were difficult on a rain sodden pitch, Longford were more than a match for the top flight opposition on their way to a well deserved win.
Even a missed penalty and a disallowed second goal failed to prevent the Town moving back into the big time and there will be some buzz at Bishopsgate next season when such illustrious opponents in the shape of Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk will be back in action at the Strokestown Road grounds.
Winners of the FAI Cup in 2003 & 2004, this was another famous victory for a club who continue to punch above their weight when it comes to competing against the supposedly stronger clubs and there was no excuses for a very disappointing Shelbourne side.
Both teams were without key players, notably the injured Sam Verdon and the suspended Gary Deegan, but nobody can argue with the fact that Longford were the better team and should have won in more comfortable fashion.
Inspired by the commanding figure of the rock solid Joe Gorman in the heart of the defence and the dynamic Aodh Dervin in the midfield battle, the Town took the game to the Premier Division opposition and this was a shock for Shels.
A harsh yellow card for local star Dervin after just a couple of minutes failed to rattle the First Division underdogs in their fierce desire to succeed but they blew a glorious opportunity of breaking the deadlock in the 26th minute when Rob Manley blasted a penalty over the bar.
Karl Chambers played a perfect ball into the path of Manley who was subsequently fouled in the box by Shels defender Luke Byrne with referee Neil Doyle showing no hesitation in awarding the spot kick.
The penalty miss may have been a very lucky escape for the Dublin club but they suffered a significant setback in this same incident when the offender Byrne was sent-off after receiving a second yellow card for the tackle on the always dangerous attacker Manley and what a shrewd signing he proved to be in the Covid-19 delayed season.
With numerical advantage, the Town increased the tempo and after Aodh Dervin drove a long range shot wide, Rob Manley directed a header straight at the opposing keeper Jack Brady.
Shels then went close when a Karl Sheppard strike from a tight angle was well saved by Longford keeper Lee Steacy in the 36th minute and the sides ended up scoreless at the break.
With the extra man, the Town piled on the pressure in the early stages of the second half and their perseverance was eventually rewarded when Rob Manley planted the ball in the back of the Shelbourne net with 54 minutes gone on the clock.
Latching on to a clever through ball from Dylan Grimes, the close range shot from Manley yielded a deflected lead goal and it almost got even better for Longford a couple of minutes later.
Joe Gorman looked to have scored a second goal for Longford but it was disallowed for offside and that gave Shels a glimmer of hope when they should have been dead and buried.
No less than three substitutes were brought on in the space of a minute before the hour mark in a bid to change the course of the game and one of those replacements, Ryan Brennan, almost saved Shels in a very tense finish.
The Town were sitting back on their slender lead and were nearly caught out when Brennan drove a snap shot over the bar in the 82nd minute.
Time was running out and Brennan almost snatched a dramatic late equaliser in the 88th minute when his close range effort was saved by Lee Steacy with the alert Joe Gorman booting the ball to safety in a frantic finish.
Four minutes of additional time were added on with Town defender Shane Elworthy blocking down a speculative shot from Daniel Byrne.
When the final whistle was eventually blown the celebration scenes that erupted will live long in the memory on yet another glorious occasion for Longford soccer.
LONGFORD TOWN: Lee Steacy; Mick McDonnell, Joe Gorman, Joe Manley; Shane Elworthy, Aodh Dervin, Dylan Grimes, Aaron McNally; Karl Chambers, Dylan Grimes; Rob Manley.
Subs:- Dean Byrne for Chambers (68 mins); Callum Warfield for R Manley (88 mins).
SHELBOURNE: Jack Brady; Aidan Friel, Oscar Brennan, Luke Byrne, Alex O’Hanlon; Mark Byrne, Sean Quinn; Karl Sheppard, Shane Farrell, Dayle Rooney; Ciaran Kilduff.
Subs:- Daniel Byrne for Farrell (27 mins); Aaron Dobbs for Sheppard (57 mins); Brian McManus for M Byrne (57 mins); Ryan Brennan for Rooney (57 mins); Jaze Kabia for Kilduff (64 mins).
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin).