Longford team manager Glenn Ryan availed of the opportunity to experiment with some other newcomers in the O'Byrne Shield fixture on Sunday last and while a number of regulars were in action the home county lost out to Offaly in just missing out on the chance to meet Dublin in the semi-final of this low key competition.
Offaly .... 1-9
Longford .. 1-8
A sparse attendance in the region of 150 gathered at a cold Pearse Park to witness what was nothing more than a 'glorified' challenge but those spectators who were interested enough to come through the turnstiles at the local GAA headquarters had to pay 10 euro to watch the action unfold with Offaly making several changes to the team that appeared on the programme.
Already without six Rhode players, including Niall McNamee as his club prepare for the forthcoming Leinster Final against Brian Kavanagh's Kilmacud Crokes, the Offaly management team fielded a second string outfit that started with just two of the 17 players that featured in the slender 1-12 to 1-10 defeat by Down in the third round of the 2010 All-Ireland Qualifiers.
Having said that, they brought on the vastly experienced Ciaran McManus and Karol Slattery at half-time and 11 minutes later introduced another regular in Scott Brady (son of former Fr. Manning Gaels footballer Noel Brady). Those three changes made a considerable difference as Offaly set about consolidating their grip on the game after leading by 1-5 to 0-4 at the break.
Longford were also much understrength on this occasion, starting with just eight of the 17 players who featured in last year's All-Ireland Championship exit against Down, but they completely dominated the first quarter of the O'Byrne Shield game with Offaly reserve keeper Eoin Brennan doing well to keep out point-blank shots from Sean McCormack when goals seemed certain.
A number of other chances were also squandered before the home county eventually got their opening score in the 10th minute when David Barden landed a well struck point. Sean McCormack then fisted the ball over the bar in the 18th minute and the visitors were really fortunate not to be in serious trouble at this stage such was the superiority that Longford were enjoying.
However, Offaly eventually woke up and after Nigel Dunne fired over a point in the 20th minute a well-worked move moments later yielded a cracking goal from Brian Kelly who was put clean through by Padraig Bracken.
While Longford hit back immediately with a point from Donal McElligott after receiving the ball from the prominent David Barden, Offaly regained the upper hand to register three scores in a row through wing back Stephen Lonergan (on target from a tight angle) and a brace of frees converted by 2010 minor star Noel Andrew Graham and Nigel Dunne.
Noel Farrell, operating in the role of the roving corner-forward, kicked a point from play for Longford in the 32nd minute but Offaly launched an immediate counter-attack which yielded a well struck score from the dangerman Dunne.
Although trailing by 1-5 to 0-4 going into the second half, Longford now had the advantage of the stiff wind and a brace of points from frees converted by Donal McElligott early on the changeover (awarded for fouls on lively newcomer William Crawford) made it very interesting indeed.
But impressive Offaly corner-forward Nigel Dunne continued to torment the Longford defence as he fired over another two points from play and that was really putting it up to Longford. However, Glenn Ryan's side got the break they badly needed when Noel Farrell, set up by Sean McCormack, scored a brilliantly struck goal in the 51st minute to leave just the minimum of margins separating the sides, 1-7 to 1-6.
Soon after Sean McCormack landed an excellent point and then Bernard McElvaney intercepted a poor pass out of the Offaly defence to blast the ball over the bar in the 56th minute to leave Longford leading and looking like they would go on and win the match.
But they failed to register another score and after Niall Smith missed a glorious chance of a goal for Offaly the faithful county got back on level terms when Ciaran McManus shot over the bar. Longford were then reduced to 14 players in the 61st minute when Paul Kelly received a straight red card in a clash with Karol Slattery and this appeared to be a very harsh decision.
While Sean Ryan scored what proved to be the winning point for Offaly in the 63rd minute as they managed to overcome the handicap of having midfielder Niall Smith sent-off (straight red card in the 65th minute), Longford had a few chances to snatch a draw with time running out.
After David Barden kicked a free wide in the 70th minute, Bernard McElvaney had a shot blocked down and then Noel Farrell failed to convert a free deep into stoppage time before a last gasp long range effort from the boot of Enda Williams dropped short into the arms of the Offaly keeper.
It was another disappointing defeat for Longford after going down by eight points to Kildare in the O'Byrne Cup the previous week and manager Glenn Ryan must now endeavour to field his strongest possible side for the opening game in Division 4 of the 2011 National League against Roscommon at Pearse Park on Sunday February 6th.
LONGFORD: James McKenna (Sean Connolly's); Thomas Gallagher (Granard St. Mary's), Barry Gilleran (Longford Slashers), Dermot Brady (Longford Slashers); Shane Mulligan (Mullinalaghta St. Columba's), Enda Williams (Clonguish), Gerard Farrell (Ardagh St. Patrick's); John O'Shea (Carrickedmond), Bernard McElvaney (Ballymore, 0-1); Paul Kelly (Longford Slashers), Donal McElligott (Mullinalaghta St. Columba's, 0-3, two frees)), David Barden (Clonguish, 0-1); Noel Farrell (Colmcille, 1-1), Sean McCormack (Killoe, 0-2), William Crawford (Abbeylara).
Subs:- Declan Reilly (Colmcille) for D Brady (64 mins); Peter Foy (Cashel) for S Mulligan (64 mins).
OFFALY: Eoin Brennan; Martin Cocoman, Brian Kehoe, James Keane; Stephen Lonergan (0-1), Ciaran Kiely, Sean Ryan (0-1); Niall Smith, Padraig Bracken; Noel Andrew Graham (0-1, free), John Coughlan, Brian Kelly (1-0); Nigel Dunne (0-5, one free), Willie Crampton, Willie Mulhall.
Subs:- Sean Pender for B Kehoe (20 mins); Ciaran McManus (0-1) for W Crampton (half-time), Karol Slattery for W Mulhall (half-time); Scott Brady for M Cocoman (46 mins); Richie Dalton for J Coughlan (69 mins).
Referee: Paul Finnegan (Louth).
Enda Williams on the ball for Longford in his attempt to evade the challenge of Offaly opponent Ciaran Kiely in the O'Byrne Shield game at Pearse Park on Sunday last.
Longford defender Shane Mulligan surging forward in breaking away from Offaly player James Keane in the O'Byrne Shield game at Pearse Park on Sunday last.
Bernard McElvaney on the attack for Longford in getting the better of Offaly midfielder Niall Smith in this action shot from the O'Byrne Shield game at Pearse Park on Sunday last.