Ryan hoping Longford can make home comforts count

ARMAGH and Donegal’s meeting in front of the live TV cameras in Crossmaglen may be the standout fixture in the opening round of All-Ireland football qualifiers but further intrigue lies elsewhere.

Longford and Mayo will meet in Pearse Park later on the same evening at the end of June and, if history is any barometer, it is a fixture that possesses the possibility of a major shock.

Mayo have repeatedly thumbed their noses up at the back door route and, ordinary as Longford were in their Leinster Championship defeat to Louth, they are a different proposition on home ground.

Derry have been beaten in the compact midland ground in the qualifiers in the not-so-distant past while Kerry endured an uncomfortable evening in the same surroundings last summer.

Dublin, too, know what it is like to come away from Pearse Park with a deep sigh of relief after a team managed by Paul Caffrey squeaked through on the back of a two-point win in June 2006. It was no surprise then that Longford manager Glenn Ryan was more concerned with the location for his side’s next game than the opposition when he dissected Sunday night’s draw yesterday.

“The venue was the most important part of the draw, even more than the opposition,’’ he said. “We’re glad to be playing the first game in Pearse Park. It definitely help but we know that we will be up against it with Mayo.”

Longford’s hopes of a run through the provincial campaign were seriously undermined by injuries to star men Brian Kavanagh who sat out the Louth game and Paul Barden who struggled through it.

The good news on that front is that both men have already returned to training and Ryan expects them to be lining out in a Longford team that is keen to make amends for their first-up setback.

“The lads are all looking forward to it,’’ he said. “The game against Louth was a big disappointment but hopefully we’ve put that behind us and we’ll be able to give the Mayo game our best shot.

“We gave the lads a few weeks off after the defeat and they have all applied themselves well since we got back to training.

“It’s been a good couple of weeks and we’re looking forward to getting back paying again.”

Longford will have lain idle for a full month by the time they recommence their championship campaign while Liam Bradley’s Antrim will have stewed on their opening defeat to Tyrone for a full five weeks.

A handful of managers have expressed their concerns about such gaps but Bradley has been delighted with the lay-off.

“I would rather have the gap we had, to be honest. We were out very early and we were able to give the lads a week off and let them go back to their clubs and regroup and refocus. I feel sorry for the teams like Wexford and Cavan who have very little time to get their heads around their disappointments over the weekend.”

Kildare’s season thus far has been suggestive of a side on the slide but Bradley is wary of what the trip to Newbridge will entail. “It is a toughie, no question about that, but Kildare are the type of team you want to pit yourself against. I would still rank them as one of the top eight teams in Ireland.”

Contrary to recent reports, forward Paddy Cunningham is “100%” fit, as are all the members of Bradley’s panel. “That was blown out of proportion,” said Bradley, “that tends to happen at this time of year.”

Saturday: June 26: All-Ireland SFC first round qualifiers: London v Wexford: Ruislip, (time to be confirmed); Tipperary v Meath/Laois, (time and date to be confirmed)*; Carlow v Derry, Dr Cullen Park, 5pm; Kildare v Antrim, Newbridge, 7pm; Offaly v Clare, Tullamore, 5pm; Longford v Mayo, Pearse Park, 7pm; Armagh v Donegal, Crossmaglen, 3.30pm (live on RTE); Cavan v Wicklow, Kingspan Breffni Park, 7pm.

*If Tipperary v Meath, match will be played on Saturday, June 26th at 7pm; If Tipperary v Laois match will be played on Sunday, June 27 at 3pm.

GAA All-Ireland SHC preliminary round: Carlow v Laois: Dr Cullen Park, 7pm Saturday, July 3: All-Ireland SHC phase one: Antrim v Carlow/Laois: Casement Park, 3.30pm; Tipperary v Wexford: Thurles, 3.30pm (live on RTE).

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