There were no surprises at Pearse Park. Tyrone flexed their muscles and delivered a message that they’re in this for the long haul.
This was a long way short of a commanding performance, but given the Red Hands’ record in the qualifiers, there’s every reason to believe that last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists will endure through another long summer.
Longford have taken some big scalps at this compact Midlands venue, but as soon as they gifted Cathal McShane the first of his two first-half goals, it was clear this was going to be a damage limitation exercise for Padraic Davis’s men.
Only four points separated the sides at the end, but as the clock ticked past the 70-minute mark, Tyrone were ten clear and coasting.
Mickey Harte’s men struggled, at times, to break down a stubborn home side, but these qualifier games are all about survival and building momentum, and no county knows this better than Tyrone.
The game was only nine minutes old when disaster struck for a Longford side that had started brightly. Paddy Collum’s kickout was intercepted by Niall Sludden, who slipped the ball to McShane. His initial effort was blocked by Barry O’Farrell, but the Owen Roes man finished the rebound for a goal that settled a nervous Red Hand side. It was a confidence boost.
“It certainly was, and, as the game progressed, it was obvious that we needed it,” said manager, Mickey Harte, afterwards.
They opened out a five-point lead with a handful of Peter Harte frees, but the home side responded through David McGivney, with two placed-ball scores.
McShane struck again in the 17th minute, rising high to punch Michael Cassidy’s long delivery into the net, as the Ulster men alternated between route one and a running game.
“They weren’t pretty goals, by any stretch of the imagination, but three points is good any way, whether it breaks the net or gets over the line. It doesn’t matter how,” said Harte.
“We needed them, we needed them to keep them at arm’s length. They have had many good days here, against teams from higher divisions, and they would have fancied another one.”
Hugh Pat McGeary and McShane tagged on points, and as Tyrone filtered men back inside their own ’45, the Leinster side had to work hard for opportunities, which came in the form of frees, converted by McGivney and Barry McKeon.
They had scored just once from play, an early Daniel Mimnagh score, and trailed by 2-7 to 0-5 at the break. Tyrone had this game just where they wanted it.
Following a sluggish start to the second-half, during which McGivney and the excellent Colm P Smyth landed scores for the home side, Tyrone got their running game going again, with Frank Burns and Michael Cassidy making incisive incursions from deep.
Harte continued to strike accurately from placed balls, and landed a fine effort from play. By the beginning of the final quarter, Longford were playing merely for pride.
Smyth and Joe Hagan pulled back scores, but Harte had made it a nine-point contest with his ninth score by the time he departed on a black card for the second successive game.
Stoppage time saw Tyrone lead by ten, but gutsy Longford gave their supporters in the 4,162-strong crowd something to cheer. They hit 1-3, including substitute Iarla O’Sullivan’s goal, and points from Shane Kenny, McKeon, and Mickey Quinn.
“Fair play to them, they kept it going. They were a spirited outfit; they didn’t give up, and they certainly can come out of this with a lot of honour, as well,” said Harte.
Longford manager, Padraic Davis, conceded that the game was up as early as the mid-point of the first-half, having conceded two goals.
“We simply can’t afford to do that, but it’s an unfortunate situation we put ourselves in, a position whereby it was very difficult for us to control the tempo of the game.
You’re in Division 1 company there, and they had that cushion all along, and they made life very difficult for us.
“We played to the end. We asked them, at half-time, to play to the end, and they’ve done that. Some of them have come off the field exhausted, and you can’t ask a whole lot after that.”
I O’Sullivan (1-0); D McGivney (0-4 frees); CP Smyth (0-3); M Quinn, B McKeon (1 free) (0-2 each); J Hagan, D Mimnagh, S Kenny (0-1 each).
C McShane (2-2); P Harte (0-9, 7 frees); B McDonnell (0-2); M Cassidy, HP McGeary (0-1 each).
P Collum; P Fox, D McElligot, B O’Farrell; M Quinn, P McCormack, D Quinn; J Keegan, D McGivney; G Rogers, B McKeon, C Smyth; D Mimnagh, J McGivney, J Hagan.
A McElligot for Rogers (42), D Doherty for O’Farrell (54), A Farrell for Keegan (56), M Hughes for J McGivney (67), S Kenny for Mimnagh (67), I O’Sullivan for Hagan (71)
N Morgan; HP McGeary, R McNamee, M McKernan; M Cassidy, K McGeary, F Burns; C Cavanagh, B Kennedy; D McClure, N Sludden, P Harte; D McCurry, C McShane, M Donnelly.
B McDonnell for Kennedy (h-t), C Meyler for K McGeary (h-t), R Brennan for McKernan (42), K Coney for McClure (54), C McAliskey for McCurry (54), C McCann for Sludden (64)
D O’Mahoney (Tipperary)
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