Progressive Longford in positive frame of mind despite missing stars

Before we consider what Dublin will face in their opening Leinster football championship tie, consider for a moment what they won’t.

It is a quite incredible statistic that opponents Longford will be without two players who have consistently delivered half of their team’s championship scores.

Take Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly similarly out of the Dublin team, and their All-Ireland stock would inevitably plummet.

Yet without talisman pairing Sean McCormack and Paul Barden, Longford have still managed to forge a respectable season regardless of what happens at Croke Park on Sunday.

Promoted in the league, they then scored an impressive come from behind win over Offaly to set up the Leinster quarter-final tie. Whether they’ll have enough fire power to truly test a side like Dublin remains to be seen.

Without McCormack — top scorer in five of their last seven Championship games — and the gifted but retired Barden, Longford forwards like Michael Quinn have a lot of slack to pick up.

The duo’s contributions to recent championship campaigns are immense, accounting for 45% of Longford’s scores last summer, 52% in 2013 and a whopping 61% in both the 2012 and 2011 championships. “We went down to Wicklow in one of our last league games and compared to the side that played them in the championship two years ago, from a panel of 26, there were 17 of them gone,” said Quinn.

“In the build-up to the game, you were looking around and saying where are our scores going to come from? Brian Kavanagh and Frankie McGee and a few other guys are still there but you don’t have the likes of Paul chipping in with maybe 1-3 or 1-4 every game and then seven or eight points from Sean.

“That’s a huge percentage of our scores gone. One of the years, Sean kicked 60% plus of our scores so that’s a huge loss. But I suppose you have to adapt and change the game you are playing and other guys just have to step up.”

There is still some hope that McCormack will be back. He departed during the league for personal reasons. Against Offaly, Kavanagh stood up with five crucial points. In all, eight different players made the score sheet. Perhaps all is not lost.

If there is any inferiority complex in the Longford dressing-room, it is certainly not evident in Quinn’s voice. Ask him if Longford - with a population of 40,000 - can realistically ever go toe to toe with Dublin - who choose from a population of 1.3m - and Quinn is optimistic.

“I think a Leinster title is achievable, a Leinster final definitely,” said the Sigerson Cup winner of their medium-term future.

“That is the biggest step for Longford. But it’s more about looking at short-term or immediate goals now. Like, playing Offaly, then playing Dublin. You have to tackle the short-term goals and hopefully they will impact on the future.”

It’s nine years now since Dublin played their last Championship game outside of Croke Park, in Longford ironically, and scraped a two-point win.

Not even Quinn with his glass-half-full optimism is predicting anything better than that this time around as Dublin twist the ignition on their bandwagon and point it towards September.

“I think for 90 per cent of the games we are underdogs anyway so nothing has changed in that regard.

“Obviously you have to be smart and you can’t go out all guns blazing and die. You have to get a balance right and a game plan that works best for you.”


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