By Francis Mooney
Down 3-17 Longford 2-24 (aet)
Longford have upset the form guide with a Qualifier win over a vulnerable Down side at Pairc Esler, striking two killer goals in extra-time to book their place in Monday’s Round 2 draw.
Substitutes Seamus Hannon and Mark Hughes both hit the net in extra-time, to finally break the fragile spirit of a Mourne side that has failed to win a game this season.
The Midlanders, playing their league football two divisions below their opponents, showed no fear and sensed their opportunity from an early stage, taking the game to the home side, with midfielder Michael Quinn playing a starring role.
Donal O’Hare finished with 2-10 for the losers, including the point that tied it up at 3-12 to 0-21 at the end of normal time, but his hefty tally wasn’t enough to deny Denis Connerton’s warriors.
There was an early scare for the home side when Michael Quinn sent Dessie Reynolds through to get his shot away, but Marc Reid responded with a fine save.
Down struggled to compete against a strong central force of Michael Brady, Darren Gallagher and Michael Quinn.
Gallagher and Quinn were at the heart of a wave of attacks which led to scores for Barry McKeon, Brian Kavanagh and Robbie Smith, who eased the Leinster men into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead after 13 minutes.
Longford continued to dominate possession, restricting the Mourne men to sporadic attacks, from which Donal O’Hare and Barry O’Hagan registered.
Fast movement of the ball led to another flurry of Longford scores early in the second quarter, with Kavanagh slotting a free for a four points advantage.
But in the 21st minute, Down struck for a goal, O’Hagan skipping past two defenders, before slipping a pass to Conor Maginn for a clinical finish from close range.
They failed to build on the score, however, coughing up possession time after time and allowing their opponents to counter with another string of scores, the best of them from James McGivney.
Quinn ran the show from midfield, helping his side go five clear, while Down went 17 minutes without a score, before Donal O’Hare converted his second free.
But Down had the ball in the net for a second time within 30 seconds of the restart, O’Hare finishing from O’Hagan’s assist after Aidan Carr had delivered a searching pass towards the right corner.
And O’Hare struck gold again eight minutes later, finishing low past Paddy Collum to round off a well worked move involving Mark Poland, Maginn and Kevin McKernan.
From five points down at the break, they now led by three, and while Longford responded through Dessie Reynolds and Quinn, they kept their noses in front through O’Hare’s accuracy from placed kicks.
Longford lost their shape and saw a number of attacks snuffed out by Aidan Carr, a steadying influence in a Down side that was slowly rebuilding its confidence.
Barry O’Hagan had a shot saved by the advancing Collum as the pressure intensified on the Midlanders’ defence, but Longford stood tall and brave, repelling a series of raids to strike on the breakaway.
The mighty Quinn added another couple of his tally, and McGivney landed another long range effort, before Masterson levelled and Kavanagh edged them back in front with five minutes to play.
Quinn thought he had won it with a stoppage time score, but there was still time for Poland to win the free that O’Hare tapped over in the 74th minute to tie it up at 3-12 to 0-21.
The first killer blow came from Hannon, who first-timed to the net in the 79th minute to make it 1-23 to 3-16 at the turnaround, and another substitute, Hughes, sealed it with a second goal from close range midway through the second period of added time.
Down scorers: D O’Hare 2-10 (0-9f), C Maginn 1-1, R Mallon 0-4, S Dornan B O’Hagan 0-1 each
Longford scorers: S Hannon 1-1, M Hughes 1-0, B Kavanagh 0-6 (5f), R Smyth (1f), M Quinn 0-4 each, J McGivney, D Masterson 0-3 each, B McKeon 0-2 D Reynolds
Down: M Reid, C McGovern, G McGovern, D O’Hagan, D McKibbin, A Carr, D O’Hanlon, P Turley, K McKernan, R Mallon (0-4), M Poland (0-1), J Murphy, C Maginn (1-1), D O’Hare (2-10, 0-9f), B O’Hagan (0-1).
Subs: G Collins for McKibbin (42), M McKay for McKernan (52), D Turley for Murphy (54), S Dornan (0-1) for O’Hagan (62), H Brown for McKay (77, BC), McKernan for Maginn (84), B McArdle for Carr (89)
Longford: P Collum, C Farrelly, B Gilleran, B O’Farrell, D McElligott, D Brady, D Masterson (0-3), M Brady, M Quinn (0-4), D Reynolds (0-1), D Gallagher, J McGivney (0-3), B McKeon (0-2), R Smyth (0-4, 1f), B Kavanagh (0-6, 5f).
Subs: P McGee for Gilleran (46), L Connerton for Gallagher (55), S Hannon (1-1) for McKeon, B Farrell for Reynolds (67), Gallagher (71), M Hughes (1-0) for Givney (80, BC), R Connor for Smyth (86), D McGivney for Quinn (89)
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry).