Pat Flanagan must wonder what his native county have to do to win a championship match. They’ve now had eight unsuccessful attempts in a row at cracking their provincial hoodoo, but this one forced their manager to question the side’s mental strength.
From three points down early on to seven points up in the second-half, it appeared as if nothing would stop Offaly. Their inability to keep making the right decisions cost them though as Longford punished their hesitance.
On the other side of the divide, this was a massive result for Jack Sheedy. Last year’s relegation to Division 4 and their 17-point trouncing by Tipperary in the championship meant the heat was on the former Dublin great. His side have responded with immediate promotion and a come-from-behind masterclass at O’Connor Park on Saturday.
He now has to turn his attention to Dublin in Croke Park in a fortnight. How does he think his players will fare?
“Nobody in the country gives us a chance in hell really to beat Dublin,” said Sheedy. “It’s daunting, there’s no two ways about it, but we’ll sit down tonight and tomorrow and think about it, and see where we’re at. Enthusiasm and a desire to work hard masks an awful lot of things and if we can bring in what we brought in to the game today, and tidy up some of the areas that we were poor in, we’ll go Croke Park and we’ll give a really good account of ourselves. That’s all you can ask for.”
We could have been talking about a very different result had Paddy Collum not pulled off a stunning save at the death to deny Conor McNamee. It was last ditch stuff from Offaly as they floated a free into the square, but the Rhode man met it with a downward punch which Collum did superbly well to claw away to safety.
There was plenty of fight in Longford in the early stages as they charged into a 0-3 to 0-0 lead by the 12th minute, but once Offaly got to grips with the physical defensive line employed by their visitors they began to gain the upperhand.
At times Offaly looked to be the fitter side, their speed out of defence often cut Longford asunder with Joseph O’Connor, Johnny Moloney and Niall Darby in particular driving them forward.
A key move from Sheedy was to hand Barry Gilleran a man marking job on Niall McNamee.
Yes, Offaly’s leader kicked a wonder point from the corner in the middle of a ten point scoring streak, but he was held to two points by the persistent Gilleran.
The game turned 12 minutes into the second-half as Longford finally stalled the Offaly charge. Michael Quinn had seen his penalty saved in first-half injury time as every bounce seemed to go Offaly’s way, but after Barry McKeon landed a vital free, Longford – powered by a determined bench – landed 11 of the game’s last 12 points.
B Kavanagh (0-5, 4 frees), C Smyth, R McNerney (free), D Reynolds (0-2 each), D Masterson, B McKeon (free), R McEntire, R Connor, P Foy (0-1 each).
W Mulhall (0-4, frees), N Dunne (0-3), N McNamee, B Allen (free) (0-2 each), J O’Connor, G Guilfoyle (free) (0-1 each).
P Collum; D Brady, B O’Farrell, C Farrelly; C Smyth, B Gilleran, D Masterson; K Diffley, M Quinn; S Doyle, F McGee, R McEntire; B McKeon, B Kavanagh, R Connor.
D Reynolds for McGee (35 inj), R McInerney for Doyle (h-t), P Foy for Connor (54), L Connerton for McKeon (60).
A Mulhall; B Darby, P McConway, D Brady; N Darby, J Moloney, J O’Connor; G Guilfoyle, N Smith; E Carroll, N McNamee, A Sullivan; N Dunne, W Mulhall, B Allen.
C McNamee for Smith (22 BC), J Ledwith for McConway (54), P Cunningham for Allen (58), C Donohue for Carroll (68), N Bracken for Dunne (68).
P O’Sullivan (Kerry).