Offaly 2-21 Longford 2-13: Offaly manager Pat Flanagan was understandably jubilant after Offaly won their first Leinster Championship match in nine years but was quick to challenge his players to go further.
Flanagan’s men had eight points to spare at the end of very open affair that ebbed and flowed initially before a run of 10 unanswered points earned them valuable breathing space against the team that had beaten them in the last two seasons.
He revealed: “I’m going to say it to the boys when I go in: ‘what are we going to do with this win?’ We haven’t thought any further than this game. Longford have been exceptionally good over the last number of years and we knew we were going to have a very tough game right up until the bitter end.
“They scored a goal near the end there and they could have got in for one or two more. They were putting pressure on us the whole time. All we thought about was getting a result and to see can we put ourselves in a position to go to Westmeath in a month. We have to sit down and think about it.
“Unless we build on it, it’s no good. It’s pointless unless we prepare ourselves as best we possibly can and be as good as we possibly can be in Mullingar and if we’re as good as we possibly can be, I think we have a chance.”
That winning feeling! Offaly manager Pat Flanagan celebrates with his captain Alan Mulhall after their win today! pic.twitter.com/iQDQ2Bjkoy— Sportsfile (@sportsfile) May 15, 2016
The Offaly boss has always worn his heart very much on his sleeve and he admitted that it would have been very difficult to bounce back from another first-round defeat.
“It would have been devastating. There is no point in saying different. We put a serious amount of work into it. If we were defeated it would have put serious question marks about what we’re doing.
“I asked the boys in the dressing room if they believed in what we’re doing? Do they believe in themselves? I think they showed that belief. It’s going to give us the springboard to push forward.”
Offaly began well and were two points ahead when disaster struck in the sixth minute,as goalkeeper and captain, Alan Mulhall misjudged the bounce from Barry McKeon’s kick and conceded a terrible goal.
But Graham Guilfoyle scored a brilliant goal for the home team four minutes later, finishing expertly after an exchange of passes with Joey O’Connor.
Longford’s riposte was impressive, three points in two minutes, two coming from Smyth, to go two clear.
By the time they registered their next score courtesy of James McGivney in the 45th minute, Offaly had turned that two-point deficit into an eight-point advantage.
A turnaround in midfield fortunes was central to that run, with Allen and the sublime Niall McNamee among the chief beneficiaries, while Peter Cunningham came forward from his new posting at centre-back to kick a wonderful score too.
It was 1-12 to 1-6 at half time but Longford were fighting and Mulhall redeemed himself after his earlier error by touching Brian Kavanagh’s penalty onto the inside of the upright.
Points from McGivney and Colm P Smyth helped Longford get to within five points of Offaly but when Niall Smith palmed to the net in the 56th minute, the Faithful County supporters could relax.
Robbie Smyth did find the net at the other end but with Anton Sullivan scoring two glorious points after coming off the bench, Offaly were always comfortable.
“I’ve always felt that Offaly have had good footballers. Even when I wasn’t involved, I always thought they were better than what they were producing. I still think this team is way off where they can get to. I wouldn’t say that they’re at 60%. I’ve always said that to them. There is a lot more within each player. If we can get that out, we’ll become a better team.”
Scorers for Offaly:
B Allen (2 frees), N McNamee, N Dunne (1 free, 1 45) (0-4 each); N Smith 1-1); G Guilfoyle 1-0; P Cunningham, A Sullivan 0-2 each; J O’Connor, E Carroll, M Brazil, J Moloney (0-1 each).
Scorers for Longford:
R Smyth (1-5, 0-2 frees), B McKeon (1-1); J McGivney (0-4); D Gallagher, CP Smyth, M Quinn (45) (0-1 each).
A Mulhall, N Darby, E Rigney, S Pender, B Darby, P Cunningham, J O’Connor, E Carroll, N Smith, J Moloney, N McNamee, M Brazil, B Allane, N Dunne, G Guilfoyle.
A Sullivan for Brazil (53), S Doyle for Allen (67), N Bracken for Dunne (68), C Donohue for B Darby (70+1), J Gethings for Guilfoyle (70+4).
P Collum, D Brady, B Gilleran, A Farrell, D Gallagher, D McElligott, B O’Farrell; D Masterson, M Quinn, P McKeon, J McGivney, D Reynolds, R Smyth, B Kavanagh, B McKeon.
P McGee for Farrell (ht), CP Smyth (ht), M Brady for P McKeon (ht), R Connor for Gallagher (53), M Hughes for Kavanagh (59), B Farrell for O’Farrell (62).
A Nolan (Wicklow).
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