Davis hoping to end Longford's final pain
Longford star centre-forward Padraig Gill has only a "slim chance" of playing in the Leinster U-21 Football Final against Wexford in Portlaoise tomorrow night (7.45).
Gill missed Longford's semi-final victory over Westmeath because of an ankle ligament injury and manager Padraic Davis admitted yesterday that his star attacker is "highly unlikely to take any part in the match".
Otherwise, Longford have a clean bill of health as they -- like Wexford -- bid to end a sequence of U-21 final defeats.
"We've lost two U-21 finals this decade and five in all, but you have to feel that the longer those kind of statistics go on, the closer you are getting to changing them," said Davis.
Longford's most recent U-21 final defeat was in the 2006 when, despite Brian Kavanagh winning the man-of-the-match award, they were pipped by Laois.
Winning the Leinster minor title last summer raised hopes in the county that they would also triumph at the next level, but Davis has cautioned supporters against raising their expectations too soon.
"I don't think people realise what a young team we've got," he said. "We've got seven players who have two more years in the U-21 grade and two of them (James McGivney and Robbie Smyth) are eligible for three more years in this grade. I reckon we've the youngest U-21 side in the country."
The Longford team also features Paddy Columb, Diarmuid Cooney, Darren Gallagher and Padraig McCormack of last year's victorious minors.
Davis believes that many of their 2008 minor team -- players like Gill, Kevin Diffley, Colm P Smith, Aaron Quinn, Shane Mahon, Fergal Battrim and James Carroll -- have played important roles and given vital leadership to the team's relative rookies.
Longford displayed different qualities in both of their previous games. A late Smyth point took them into extra-time against Meath (who had knocked out All-Ireland champions Dublin) in their quarter-final, which they eventually won by two points.
Then, in the semi-finals, they were trailing Westmeath's fancied U-21s by two points when their opponents lost Aussie Rules-bound John Heslin to a red card. Longford then took advantage to pull off a one-point victory.
Longford have always used the ultra-competitive Hastings Cup -- an U-21 competition that includes teams from Connacht and Ulster -- to prepare their team and got as far as the semi-finals this year.
"It's always better to be playing competitive games rather than challenge matches, especially when there's no back-door in the U-21 championship and you need to hit the ground running," Davis said.
The Longford manager concedes that tomorrow night's game is a surprise pairing and believes it will make for a thrilling match. "Wexford knocked out Kildare, who were really fancied," he said.
"Both sides have come through two tough games, have already been tried and tested, so there's going to be very little between us."
Wexford, who are competing in the U-21 championship final for the fifth time without having a previous success, have named an unchanged side from that which beat Carlow in their semi-final.
Meanwhile, Barry John Keane will make a timely return from suspension for Kerry against Cork in the Munster U-21 FC Final at Pairc Ui Rinn tomorrow (7.30). He will replace the injured Barry John Walsh at centre-forward.
David O'Leary (Dr Crokes), younger brother of Kieran, replaces Pa Kilkenny at corner-back on the Kerry team, while Thomas Ladden (Keel) comes into midfield in place of Colm Moriarty.
Cork, with 2010 Young Player of the Year Aidan Walsh at midfield, keep faith with the team that beat Tipperary in the semi-finals.
WEXFORD (U-21F v Longford) -- R Farrell; M Furlong, S Gaul, C Carty; D Butler, J Leacy, J Breen; M O'Hanlong, M O'Regan; L Og McGovern, E Kent, P Kelly; K O'Grady, K Kehoe, B Halpin.
KERRY (U-21F v Cork) -- B Kelly; P Crowley, M Griffin, D O'Leary; J Sherwood, B Shanahan, J Lyne; T Ladden, E Walsh; J O'Donoghue, BJ Keane, A Fitzgerald; S O'Brien, D Casey, P Geaney.
CORK (U-21F) -- S Mellet; L Jennings, D Cahalane, A Cronin; P Daly, T Clancy, J Wall; M O'Laoire, A Walsh; C Sheehan, M Collins, J O'Rourke; D Og Hodnett, B O'Driscoll, P Honohan.