Jimmy Gacquin’s unheralded side face Meath’s minors in the curtain-raiser at Croke Park, having already dumped Offaly and Dublin out of the competition.
It is a far cry from the round-robin section, where the county began their campaign playing against the likes of Kilkenny, Wicklow, Louth and Carlow, but in Gacquin they have a manager who is no stranger to bringing unlikely success to teams.
The St Mel’s teacher played corner-back on John O’Mahony’s St Brigid’s side four years ago as they captured their first Roscommon senior title in 29 years, and he will be hoping Longford can follow the examples set by Westmeath and Laois in this grade in recent years by winning a Leinster title.
“It’s a dream come true,” Gacquin said about the prospect of playing in front of more than 70,000 people.
“Longford people, in general, don’t expect to get to Croke Park. It’ll be a great experience for our lads and hopefully it will encourage more of them to stay with football because we need underage success to boost the game,” he said.
Longford are no strangers to underage success, but it has tended to arrive through the schools’ game, where St Mel’s College spent years vying with St Jarlath’s, of Tuam, and St Brendan’s, of Killarney, for the right to be named top of that educational tree.
Five of Gacquin’s side are drawn from the famous institution, while corner-forward Tony Murphy is also a former pupil. All of them have Under-16 Leinster medals from their time there.
Moyne also make up a sizeable chunk of the starting 15, with four players having won an All-Ireland Colleges B medal with the school, and with Meath having a handful of the equally renowned St Pat’s, Navan, side in their ranks, the Longford lads will be seeing some familiar faces when they line up at 2.30 tomorrow.
“We visited Croke Park on Tuesday and hopefully the lads will be able to deal with the pressure that playing there brings with it,” Roscommon-born Gacquin said.
“They’re confident fellas and you just hope the X-factor works in your favour on the day. We know a few of their lads from the Navan schools, too, so we’ll know who to watch out for.”