Expected to make a big impact in the Leinster Vocational Schools Inter-County Senior 'A' Football Championship this season, Longford fell at the first hurdle when crashing to a disappointing defeat against Offaly who scored the decisive only goal from a penalty in the closing stages of the first half and just a solitary point separated the sides in the finish.
Offaly adapted better to the extremely difficult wet conditions at Pearse Park on Saturday last and could have been in a comfortable lead at the break but for some poor finishing. The faithful county were actually trailing by 0-3 to 0-2 before the crucial goal materialised in the 28th minute and it was wing back Joe O'Connor who converted the penalty in off the post to give the visitors a slender advantage going into the second half.
Full-forward Barry Cushen was fouled in the square after he latched on to a long ball in from centre-half-back Conor Lowry and the dangerman Cushen almost scored a second goal in first half stoppage time when flicking his close range effort narrowly wide. The same player had squandered a glorious chance of finding the net with just 20 seconds gone on the clock and that was a very lucky escape for Longford who were slow to settle on such a dreadful day for football.
O'Connor, Cushen and Lowry along with midfielder Pat Camon were all members of the Offaly minor team who lost to Longford in the 2010 Leinster Championship final and thus some measure of revenge was gained on this occasion.
The home side were backboned by four county minors who featured in that Croke Park decider last July - notably James McGivney, Robbie Smith, Shane Donoghue and Cillian Lynn - and with another rising young star Enda Reilly from the Mullahoran club also lining-out with the Longford Vocational team there were high hopes of further progress in this competition.
But Offaly just done enough to earn a home quarter-final against Dublin and showed a lot of character when they fell behind midway through the second half. Three frees in a row were fired over the bar by the accurate Enda Reilly as wind assisted Longford looked like coming out on top but were left to rue the kicking of four costly wides after dominating the third quarter to lead by 0-6 to 1-2.
Back came Offaly with a well struck point in the 49th minute from Aaron McDonagh (a late substitute in the 2010 Leinster Minor decider) and another brace of scores quickly followed from Barry Cushen (free, 50 mins) and Pat Camon (52 mins), the latter slotting the ball over the bar after a goal attempt from substitute Stephen O'Brien was blocked down.
That determined revival was really putting it up to Longford and while Enda Reilly closed the gap to the minimum of margins when landing a brilliantly struck free from near the sideline in the 55th minute he failed to convert a pressure kick in the 60th minute and that long range free proved to be the last chance for a late equaliser.
Longford's cause was certainly not helped when Robbie Smyth was forced to retire injured in the closing minutes of the first half and while the Abbeylara lad was brought back on in the 51st minute he was unable to make any real impact much to the sheer dismay of the management team of Gerry Belton, Albert Fallon and Mick Greene who were confident they had a team capable of beating Offaly.
Things were looking a lot better when Longford took the lead completely against the run of play in the 12th minute through Cillian Lynn and while Aaron McDonagh replied with a fine strike for Offaly, the home side regained the lead in the 19th minute when Robbie Smyth smacked the ball over the bar.
But Longford failed to register another score from play during the remainder of this scrappy encounter spoiled by the adverse weather and even though they extended the advantage when Enda Reilly fired over the first of his five frees in the 24th minute, Offaly hit back immediately with a cracking point from defender Joe O'Connor and the same player converted the penalty soon after for what proved to be the matchwinning goal.
LONGFORD: Gareth Higgins (Ballymahon Secondary School); John Gill (Ballymahon SS), Shane McKeon (Cnoc Mhuire, Granard), Michael McHugh (Ardscoil Phadraig, Granard); Anthony Baxter (Cnoc Mhuire), James McGivney (Cnoc Mhuire), John Rock (Ballymahon SS); Barry O'Farrell (Ballymahon SS), Shane Donoghue (Ballymahon SS); Diarmuid O'Reilly (Cnoc Mhuire), Robbie Smyth (Cnoc Mhuire, 0-1), Owen Coughlan (Ballymahon SS); Cillian Lynn (Cnoc Mhuire, 0-1), Enda Reilly (Cnoc Mhuire, 0-5, all frees), Martin Rock (Ballymahon SS).
Subs:- Wayne O'Hara (Cnoc Mhuire) for R Smyth (injured, 28 mins); R Smyth for O Coughlan (51 mins); Tommy Moran (Ardscoil Phadraig) for C Lynn (56 mins); Aaron Elliot (Ballymahon Vocational School) for R Smyth (62 mins).
OFFALY: Conor Clancy; David Flynn, Alan Camon, Bobby Mitchell; Thomas Mooney, Conor Lowry, Joe O'Connor (1-1, goal from penalty); Pat Camon, Gareth Mann (0-1); Stephen Connelly, Aaron McDonagh (0-2), Brian Grehan; Sean Dolan, Barry Cushen (0-1, free), Barry Kelly.
Subs:- Darragh Corbett for S Connelly (half-time); Eoin Lowry for B Mitchell (41 mins); Stephen O'Brien for S Dolan (49 mins).
Referee: Rob Cornally (Westmeath).