Glenn Ryan hailed his side’s mental fortitude in making such an important breakthrough by winning their first Leinster championship game since 2007.
The proud Longford manager revealed his players had been under huge pressure to end that barren spell following their second straight promotion in the league and winning the Division 3 title, describing their display as “our worst performance of the year”.
It certainly looked to have paralysed them in the first half and they were lucky to be just six points down as Laois racked up eight wides to go with their nine points.
Laois boss Justin McNulty rued faulty shooting which he felt marred an otherwise “complete performance” and also felt his men were the victims of some “hometown decisions”.
While accepting referee Michael Duffy was correct under the new rules to disallow Kevin Meaney’s injury-time goal if the Laois captain had been in the square, as the delivery had come from a free, he wasn’t convinced the Arles-Kilcruise player hadn’t made a run from outside the area.
Quite how they found themselves chasing and ultimately losing a game in which they dominated the middle third to a remarkable extent, is anybody’s guess.
Bad shooting was clearly part of it but they seemed to lose their composure in the second half.
“Luck had a huge amount to do with it” said Ryan.
“Last year we probably kicked it away. Laois won by a point. This year Laois will probably say they kicked it away. There was so much pressure on the team just to try and win one game after doing what they did. It’s just very hard when they are trying to make a breakthrough. To be able to take the pressure on that they’ve had to over the last couple of weeks, on their home patch, and everybody expecting them to turn over a big gun like Laois.”
McNulty was bitterly disappointed the midfield efforts of John O’Loughlin, Brendan Quigley and Kevin Meaney counted for nought.
“I think we controlled the game for long periods,” said McNulty. “We probably weren’t as ruthless as we needed to be in front of goal. I think the wide count will verify that.
“The goal was crucial for them. When it looked like they were dead and buried the goal gave them the confidence to come back. Probably the biggest factor was that they took their chances and we didn’t. Simple as that.
“I think there were a few hometown decisions as well during the game which is always going to happen in championship. It’s something you have to deal with and you have to beat the referee as well.”
Certainly there looked like there would only be one victor at half time and it wasn’t Longford. It took 16 minutes for them to get off the mark through the brilliant Paul Barden and by that stage, Laois had four points on the board.
Wing-backs Darren Strong and Conor Boyle went forward for three points between them, while debutant Gary Walsh added a couple of sweet scores to give them a 0-9 to 0-3 lead at half time.
Ryan made two substitutions in a bid to add more pace to his team and they certainly resumed in better fashion. Barden had a shot saved by Eoin Culliton early on but made no mistake when palming Sean McCormack’s perfectly-placed pass to the net.
Laois responded well with frees from Ross Munnelly and Walsh, while Meaney almost scored a goal but was denied by a very good save from Damien Sheridan.
But Longford reeled their opponents in. David Barden started a run of seven points without reply in the 48th minute.
McCormack added a brace, including one from a brilliantly-judged kick-pass by Quinn, who thundered into proceedings in the second half. The former AFL player levelled just short of the hour with an outside-of-the-boot point from 45m and after Francis McGee had a shot blocked, McCormack swooped to put Longford in front for the first time.
Kavanagh stretched the margin to two as the tie went into injury time.
Laois threw everything forward and, apart from Meaney’s disallowed goal, Sheridan was out quickly to make a good stop from Padraig Clancy. Colm Kelly added a free but it was to be Longford’s day.
“There’s no doubt we had a monkey on our back in terms of having to win a Leinster match,” Ryan observed. “We done that thank God and we done it in the best way you could because it took a huge amount of character. We probably saved our worst performance of the year for the biggest day of the year.”
Scorers for Longford: P Barden 1-2, S McCormack 0-4 (2fs), B Kavanagh 0-2, D Barden, M Quinn 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: G Walsh 0-4 (2fs), R Munnelly (1f), D Strong 0-2 each, C Boyle, K Meaney, C Begley, C Kelly (f) 0-1 each.
Subs for Longford: P Kelly for Keegan (ht), P McCormack for N Mulligan (ht), F McGee for McElligott (50), K Diffley for D Barden (68), N Farrell for McElvanney (70).
Subs for Laois: M Timmons for Julian (43), C Kelly for Munnelly (64), D O’Connor for Walsh (68).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)
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