Offaly 2-21 Longford 2-13
Offaly recorded their first Leinster championship victory since 2007 in emphatic fashion, putting a Longford team that has beaten them in the last two seasons to the sword at O’Connor Park, writes Daragh Ó Conchúir.
Goals from Graham Guilfoyle and Niall Smith arrived at crucial times for Offaly, while Longford endured a 29 minute scoring drought that included a missed penalty, in a period when the winners scored 10 points.
Bernard Allen (free) and Nigel Dunne (45) got them going straight from the throw-in and though Robbie Smyth got Longford off the mark from their first attack, the strong-running Eoin Carroll responded immediately and the hosts were looking strong.
They were rocked back on their heels by the concession of a bizarre goal in the sixth minute that goalkeeper, Alan Mulhall won’t want to look back on.
Some good footwork got Barry McKeon into space but the Colmcille forward failed to get sufficient purchase on his kick for a point. As the ball dropped short, Mulhall rushed out to meet it but misjudged the flight of the ball as it hopped over his head, via a slight touch off his fingertips, into the net.
James McGivney followed up with a point but Offaly’s first goal came soon after, and it was a score of significantly greater beauty than the Longford one.
Graham Guilfoyle gather possession around 50m out and exchanged passes with Joey O’Connor to before accelerating into space, sidestepping easily past Dermot Brady and planting a powerful low shot to the far corner of the net in the 10th minute.
With the classy Niall McNamee chipping over his first point it was Offaly that now had a two-point advantage.
Longford’s riposte was impressive, with three points in two minutes, two of which came from Smyth, but by the time they registered their next score courtesy of McGivney in the 45th minute, Offaly had turned that two-point deficit into an eight-point advantage.
A turnaround in midfield fortunes was central to that run, with Allen and the sublime McNamee among the chief beneficiaries, while Peter Cunningham came forward from his new posting at centre-back to kick a wonderful score too.
It was 1-12 to 1-6 at half time but Offaly were let off the hook when Brian Kavanagh’s well-struck penalty rebounded off the inside of the upright to safety, with Mulhall possibly getting the faintest of touches.
Still, they did get to within five points and memories of their comeback from seven points down 12 months ago might have begun to haunt the Faithful men.
If so, they were quickly banished thanks to Niall Smith’s well-finished goal, as he palmed over the advancing Paddy Collum, from Guilfoyle’s pass in the 56th minute.
Smyth found the net at the other end but Offaly were well on top and with Anton Sullivan coming off the bench for two excellent points, they finally ended their provincial championship heartache.
Scorers for Offaly: B Allen (2fs), N McNamee, N Dunne (1f, 1 45) 0-4 each; N Smith 1-1; G Guilfoyle 1-0; P Cunningham, A Sullivan 0-2 each; J O’Connor, E Carroll, M Brazil, J Moloney 0-1 each
Scorers for Longford: R Smyth 1-5 (0-2fs), B McKeon 1-1, J McGivney 0-4, D Gallagher 0-1, CP Smyth 0-1, M Quinn 0-1 (45)
Offaly: A Mulhall, N Darby, E Rigney, S Pender, B Darby, P Cunningham, J O’Connor, E Carroll, N Smith, J Moloney, N McNamee, M Brazil, B Allane, N Dunne, G Guilfoyle.
Subs: A Sullivan for Brazil (53), S Doyle for Allen (67), N Bracken for Dunne (68), C Donohue for B Darby (70+1), J Gethings for Guilfoyle (70+4)
Longford: P Collum, D Brady, B Gilleran, A Farrell, D Gallagher, D McElligott, B O’Farrell; D Masterson, M Quinn, P McKeon, J McGivney, D Reynolds, R Smyth, B Kavanagh, B McKeon.
Subs: P McGee for Farrell (ht), CP Smyth (ht), M Brady for P McKeon (ht), R Connor for Gallagher (53), M Hughes for Kavanagh (59), B Farrell for O’Farrell (62)
Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)