Magnificent Longford’s long wait for a Leinster championship win finally ended when they created a massive shock with a thoroughly deserved victory over 14-man Meath before an attendance of 5,591 at Pearse Park yesterday.
The Midlanders’ last victory in front of their home supporters in the provincial championship was against Offaly back in 2015 before manager Denis Connerton began his second spell as boss.
Connerton is n the third year of his second spell having served a three-year term back in the early noughties and it was the first time he has tasted a Leinster Championship victory.
He will now take charge of the county’s first semi-final appearance in 30 years when they take on All-Ireland champions Dublin.
His side had to endure a few anxious moments in the closing stages as Meath cut a five-point deficit to the minimum.
However, a resilient Longford held their nerve and a point from veteran substitute Sean McCormack in the second of four added minutes sealed a thoroughly deserved win.
When asked afterwards if he was looking forward to the semi-final, Connerton remarked ‘who are we playing? It was obvious he hadn’t looked beyond the challenge of the Royal County.
“This is my sixth year as manager in total and it is also my first home game in the Leinster championship. The home venue is huge, it is important for any team but especially for ourselves.
“It was a fabulous win today, we knew we were up against a very good Meath team, we played very well. That ball that hopped over the crossbar from Conor Berry in the second half to put us five clear, generally all season they haven’t been going over the bar for us. We got the rub of the green today. It is very satisfying so we are obviously delighted.
We were very disappointed that we didn’t get promoted from Division 3 this year. We had worked so hard, we lost a game in Armagh in the last seconds, we lost here against Fermanagh by a point and in the closing stages today it was looking like deja vu as Meath came back at us and the game was down to a point. The experience we gained from those sort of games in the league stood to us today.
“We were happy at half-time and we produced a very strong display in the second half. We are a very young team and they really stood up today and showed great pride.”
The dismissal of wing-back Shane McEntee following an off-the-ball incident involving Rian Brady when Meath were four points down on 56 minutes didn’t help the Royals’ cause but they managed to play their best football after that.
A despondent Meath boss Andy McEntee said: “What is the point in even talking about referees? I don’t understand. The whole thing comes from a blatant foul on Graham Reilly. It should have been a free in, he gives the free out, they go up get a score and we have a man sent off. That is some turning point in any game.
“There is just no point in talking about referees.”
Longford had the advantage of a tricky wind in the opening half and the sides were level seven times before going in at the break 0-7 each.
Meath spurned three gilt-edge goal chances in that opening half with Donal Keogan, Bryan McMahon and Cillian O’Sullivan all failing to hit the target and those misses came back to haunt them at the final whistle.
Longford had claims for a penalty turned down when Robbie Smyth seemed to be bundled over as he attempted to shoot on nine minutes.
A Dessie Reynolds point two minutes into the restart gave Longford a lead they were never to relinquish. The Midlanders cut loose in that second half with James McGivney outstanding at full-forward while Darren Gallagher was in control around midfield as his side opened up a 0-15 to 0-10 lead by the 58th minute.
The introduction of Joey and Eamon Wallace added pace to the Meath attack and the brothers were both on the mark as the Royals threatened a revival.
That point from Eamon Wallace might well have been a goal but keeper Padraig Collum, who converted a first-half ’45, reacted brilliantly to deflect the ball over his crossbar. With the visitors three points in arrears at the time that save proved crucial.
Scorers for Longford: J McGivney (0-4); D Gallagher (0-3); R Brady (0-2); D Mimnagh, C Berry, D Reynolds, D McGivney (f), R Smyth, P Collum (’45), S McCormack (0-1 each).
Scorers for Meath: G Reilly (0-3); D Lenihan (2f), P Kennelly (0-2 each); S Curran, D Keogan, B Menton, M Burke, B Brennan, E Wallace, J Wallace (0-1 each).
LONGFORD: P Collum; P McCormack, M Quinn, P Fox; D McElligiott, D Masterson, D Mimnagh; R McIntire, C Berry; D Reynolds, D Gallagher, D McGivney; J McGivney, R Smyth, R Brady.
Subs: S McCormack for Smyth (66), L Connerton for Brady (72), P Foy for McGivney (72), B Gilleran for Mimnagh (74).
MEATH: A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, S Curran; J McEntee, D Keogan, S McEntee; B Menton, P Connelly; C O’Sullivan, B Brennan, M Burke; B McMahon, G Reilly, D Lenihan.
Subs: Daniel O’Neill for Kennelly (46), Joey Wallace for Brennan (54), Eamon Wallace for O’Sullivan (59), Thomas O’Reilly for McMahon (68).
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone).
Three gilt-edge goal chances in the opening half for Meath and they failed to hit the target for any of them. If they had managed points from those opportunities they would probably be looking forward to a semi-final with Dublin.
How Meath stood off their opponents and allowed them pick off their scores was alarming. When Longford had possession Meath just seemed to get bodies behind the ball without putting real pressure on the player with the ball.
For a county with a population of around 40,000 to be able to not only compete but defeat a county of Meath’s stature is a magnificent achievement for all of Longford and the work that is being undertaken at underage level.
Another devastating blow for Meath football and Andy McEntee in his second year as manager. Last year’s heavy defeat to Kildare was a bad day at the office but this defeat signals that the county is going in one direction.
The Longford boss did his homework and deployed the experienced Michael Quinn to mark danger man Donal Lenihan and the Meath talisman failed to score from play. Overall Denis Connerton got his matches correct.
Nothing to report.
BEST ON SHOW
That was a tight one between a number of Longford heroes.
Darren Gallagher, Diarmuid Masterson, Michael Quinn were all outstanding but the display of James McGivney stood out. The number 14 registered four points from play but his general play also caught the eye.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
McEntee certainly wasn’t happy with referee Sean Hurson.
The decision to award a free against Graham Reilly when he was hauled down in front of the posts proved controversial.
Longford went up the pitch and scored a point and Meath then had Shane McEntee dismissed.
Overall though the Tyrone official controlled the game well.
Longford are through to a semi-final clash with All-Ireland champions Dublin. Meath will attempt to progress through the qualifiers, the draw for which takes place this morning.
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