Success in a county like Longford
In counties where championship silverware, even of the provincial variant, is a practical impossibility, the only way of measuring happiness is to assess whether a team is on an upward or a downward slope.
Before last Saturday, there was a nagging sense that Longford were on a downward trajectory.
While it might come as news to some that Longford had ever hit the heights (and it would probably be pushing it a bit far to call them ‘a golden generation’) the county has come on well in the qualifier era.
When one recalls the dark days on the mid-1990s, when the second worst team in the country would have given them an unmerciful hiding, the last decade hasn’t been half bad.
In the past six years, they have earned for themselves the unquestionably lofty title of Round 1 qualifier kingpins, though this status is, perhaps understandably, not widely known among the public at large.
Since 2009, they have won six successive Round 1 qualifier games, dispatching teams like Mayo, Cavan and Derry.
Sadly, in each of those years, Round 2 of the qualifiers has proven to be their Everest.
Following on from their abject surrender against Offaly in the Division 4 final, not to mention their three point win over the same opposition in the League proper - as unimpressive a three-point win as has ever been recorded given that Offaly finished the game with 12 men - the anticipation was that Longford would lose badly on Saturday.
Without the totemic Paul Barden, who was influential in the county’s decade long march from utter irrelevance to moderate respectability, and the free-scoring inside forward Sean McCormack, Longford relied on guys like Dessie Reynolds, Ross McNerney and the more familiar figure of Brian Kavanagh.
The comfy, no-pressure space known as bonus territory opens its doors earlier to some counties than others. Given the unexpected nature of Saturday’s win, it could be argued that Longford are in bonus territory already.
So, what would represent success against Dublin? The general consensus is that this game is teed up to be one of the biggest maulings in the long history of Dublin maulings in the Leinster championship.
It’s probable that the handicap will sit at around 14 points. Either way, it is believed by most that losing by a mere ten points will prove quite beyond Longford.
They will get a chance to extend that Round 1 qualifier record.
One of the great post-match understatements
The world was braced for a typically stygian Ulster championship encounter in Ballybofey - ‘a pig of a game’ as Paddy Heaney cheerfully predicted.
Everything was in place.
The bleak sky (is it ever sunny in Ballybofey?), the rain-drop speckled camera screen, a vaguely angry looking Mickey Harte prowling the sideline, and two counties whose very names have become bywords for purist-horrifying defensive football.
Indeed, Michael Lyster speculated post match that the bad weather was attributable to the Almighty’s hostility to defensive football, a theological proposition on which we await further elaboration.
But we didn’t get the historically low-scoring encounter that many feared. Donegal, in particular, were economical and effective in front of goal.
The familiar snarl and poison was still present, even if Colm O’Rourke found the half-time brawl sorely lacking in the violence department.
The stand-off was one of the more comical of the genre and could have been at least partly attributable to the rather dingy, unwelcoming tunnel in Ballybofey.
When asked about the brawl afterwards, Rory Gallagher painted more with words than the images alone could hope to convey.
‘It was just two teams heading in...’
We need to talk about ’marquee forwards’. Marquee forward is one of the primary go-to-cliches for the modern pundit.
The standard definition of a ’marquee forward’ is a forward who is more likely to be name-checked by the national media than any of his colleagues.
At the weekend, there was talk of absent marquee forwards and teams with massive, gaping marquee forward shaped holes in them.
Emlyn Mulligan’s absence for Leitrim could have been a disaster for the talking heads, necessitating hours of late night research and numerous cups of coffee. Fortunately, however, Mulligan’s very absence proved to be a handy talking point in and of itself.
Over on Galway Bay FM, Diarmuid Blake’s charitable verdict was that Leitrim have ‘no one up front. Nothing.’
While Leitrim could have benefitted from Emlyn Mulligan’s presence, they were not, as was feared beforehand, on the wrong end of a hammering.
Galway, a team coming down with flashy forwards, were a letdown and the odds will have lengthened on them ending Mayo’s dominance this year.
Leitrim in Carrick
One of the common assertions of those who have been there and done that in the Connacht championship is that Leitrim are a tricky customer on their home patch.
A quick squizz at the record books reveals that however hard it is to beat Leitrim in Carrick, this is as nothing compared to the task of losing to them there.
Even in the perfect and glorious year of 1994, the only game in Connacht that Leitrim didn’t win was the only game of the four that was held in Carrick.
That was the 1-6 to 0-9 draw with Galway, the famous day when no fewer than 200 Galway folk were inspired to make the arduous trip to Leitrim’s capital city.
There was plenty of concrete visible on the Carrick terraces, a consequence perhaps of Galway’s phlegmatic fanbase and low Leitrim expectations.
Finally, Dublin are due a game in Croker
Jack Sheedy has some cheek.
The former Dublin midfielder and current Longford manager said, a few weeks back, that the Dubs need to be taken out of Drumcondra sooner rather than later.
However, anyone who has been paying attention to the great debate of our time knows that Dublin’s last championship game outside Croke Park was in Pearse Park in Longford back in 2006.
A different Ireland and a long time ago for sure. For instance, all the chatter around the VIP area centred around Bertie Ahern (who attended the game with his daughter Georgina and her husband and was not attacked by any walking aids) and his awkward meeting with his predecessor and long-time foe, Albert Reynolds.
But here’s the thing.
Longford and Dublin haven’t met in the championship since. Therefore it is Dublin’s turn to play Longford in Croker. But Jack Sheedy doesn’t want them to get their home game.
When oh when will we get Dublin out of Pearse Park?
Carlow’s continental approach doesn’t pay off
John O’Mahony took on the Bobby Robson role for Carlow this year, working as a hotshot advisor to the actual gaffer Turlough O’Brien.
The precise description of O’Mahony’s role has created some confusion. There appears to be no agreed term. ‘Director of Gaelic Football’ would be a personal favourite but the GAA are likely to spurn this categorisation.
Given O’Mahony’s involvement, John Giles would not be surprised to learn that Carlow went down heavily to Laois in Dr. Cullen Park.
All told, they took a bigger hammering than expected at home to Laois on Saturday evening.
But given that we are dealing with a team who conceded seven goals against Meath last year, it would be hard to say the present managerial ticket has made them worse.
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