UNLESS you’re considered among Leinster’s big guns, provincial titles are hard to come in the east — just ask Louth.
But before the heartbreaking finale and the ructions that followed in the senior game, one of the province’s lesser lights got a chance to shine at Croke Park on Sunday as Longford claimed their second provincial minor title in a decade.
It was just their fourth title, coming eight years after Enda Williams ended a 64-year wait for success.
The scenes when referee Joe Curley blew the full time whistle were wonderful as the Longford players, mentors and fans celebrated an unlikely success.
Before the final, that joy had looked improbable against an Offaly team who had beaten them by 22 points in the first round of the competition.
But Longford regrouped and reached the final, and led by captain Dylan Quinn and midfielders Diarmuid Cooney and Darren Gallagher, they grew in confidence to stun the Faithful and those taking their seats for the senior game.
A day after his senior championship had been ended in the rain in Newry, Williams was back in Croke Park in his role as mentor to this year’s minors.
“When we won it 2002 we had a lot of good individual footballers,” Williams explained.
“These boys all together would be a good, hardworking, honest people and they deserved what they got. After the Offaly game we just came together and regrouped and we knew that was just one of those days and that it wasn’t the real Longford minors.
“In 2002 we had won a trophy at U17, but this bunch of players hadn’t won anything that I’m aware of. When I started off with them at the start of the year I wasn’t particularly aware of what I was dealing with. But I knew straight away after doing a couple of sessions. They are a good, honest, quiet group of lads that were willing to work as hard as they could to get what they wanted.”
Such a heavy defeat would have been a crushing blow to most senior teams, never mind a group of 17-year-old boys. But they come from a county that embraces the back door like few others, as Mayo well know.
They overcame Wexford and Carlow before meeting a Kildare team that had been through three games with Dublin and were on their last legs. Momentum kicked in and Longford were in the final. The next step is to come back down from this high and build for the future.
“I said it to the boys after the game that hopefully I’ll be playing with a few of them in the senior team,” said Williams.
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