Longford'S progress continues. A dramatic and deserved win over Derry adds to the view of a team on an upward curve, but it was not as easy as it should have been.
In a chaotic finish, with 14 minutes of injury time, the home side somehow held on, but there was controversy too. Derry's Barry McGoldrick, who had marauded forward from corner-back to grab two goals, picked up a second yellow card after a melee in the Longford goalmouth in the 10th minute of injury time.
Minutes later, Derry sub Joe Diver scored a goal reminiscent of Joe Sheridan's against Louth two years ago -- this time referee Michael Duffy awarded a free out and Longford were safe. Derry, though, cried foul.
"Joe Diver caught the ball clean and was dragged to the ground," said manager John Brennan, "and he and ball ended up in the net. We've seen that given. But we're not surprised with Mr Duffy -- we all saw that last week too."
Brennan also said he was bemused by the sending off of McGoldrick, who left the field with a bloody nose.
Longford should have been further clear than three by then. McGoldrick had twice thrown Derry a lifeline their display scarcely deserved with goals at crucial times, the second in the 68th minute actually putting them one point ahead.
Just as in their Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal, Derry look a pale shadow of their selves. A side rich with potential has looked sluggish and, at times, rudderless, this year.
For Longford, Michael Quinn continues to impress. Bar a tough opening half against Laois, the 22-year-old has unquestionably been one of the best players in the championship so far and must surely be an All Star contender, even at this stage. He was imperious again last night, reading the play superbly and inspiring the team forward.
The lengthy delay was caused by an injury to Longford midfielder John Keegan seconds into the second half. He left the field with a neck brace fitted but Glenn Ryan later reported that it was precautionary and gave an upbeat bulletin on the Naomh Columba man.
Longford had led by three at the break, 0-8 to 0-5, thanks largely to the accuracy from frees of Sean McCormack. In truth, however, Derry struggled at the back to contain McCormack and Brian Kavanagh.
Brennan saw it differently. "We had opportunities in the first half to have built up a lead and that didn't happen," he said.
Francis McGee, a late replacement for David Barden, opened the scoring after a minute but Emmett McGuckin and Mark Lynch had quick replies to settle the visitors.
Paddy Bradley showed all his class too in the opening phase of the game and was at the heart of anything productive from Derry. He had a point after eight and was lively all through. Strangely, though, he passed up opportunities to shoot, electing to pass to a team-mate when on other days he surely would have taken it on himself. He carved out a great goal opportunity after 25 minutes but shot wide from close range.
The best goal chance of the half, however, fell to McCormack, whose shot from the edge of the square was well saved by Danny Devlin. In the minutes after Keegan's injury, Eoin and Paddy Bradley traded scores with McCormack, before McGoldrick's first goal levelled the match. The corner-back finished coolly, after being set up by a brilliant pass from the 45-metre line by Paddy Bradley. Longford really needed the next score after the hammer blow, and it came again from a McCormack free, his sixth, followed quickly by Colm Smyth from play.
But McGoldrick's second goal, another close finish from an Eoin Bradley sideline ball, put Derry in the driving seat, despite not playing well. Again McCormack got Longford level and then the home side went in front in the third minute of the 11 added on with a great effort from Brian Kavanagh. Brothers Sean and Padraig McCormack added points as Longford held on in a chaotic finish.
"Great evening," said Glenn Ryan. "The one thing I'm delighted about is that after we threw away the game against Wexford and it came down to not knowing how to win, we have learned from that and we have won on a night when we didn't play well."
Ryan, though, acknowledged his side had shown composure. "These fellows have shown remarkable resilience -- they have gone to the well every time this year and I'm delighted for them."
Scorers -- Longford: S McCormack 0-11 (9f), F McGee, B Kavanagh, B McElavaney, P McCormack, CP Smyth, M Quinn ('45') 0-1 each. Derry: B McGoldrick 2-0, P Bradley 0-3 (1f), J McCamely 0-2, M Lynch, E McGuckin, E Bradley 0-1 each.
Longford: D Sheridan; D Brady, B Gilleran, D Reilly; CP Smyth, M Quinn, S Mulligan; B McElvanney, J Keegan; F McGee, P Barden, N Mulligan; D McElligott, B Kavanagh, S McCormack. Subs: D Barden for Keegan (inj), P McCormack for N Mulligan, P Foy for McGee, P Gill for McElligott.
Derry: D Devlin; R Dillon, C McKaigue, B McGoldrick; R Scott, M Craig, SL McGoldrick; M Friel, Patsy Bradley; M Donaghy, M Lynch, J McCamley; E Lynn, Paddy Bradley, E McGuckin. Subs: C Gilligan for M Donaghy, N Forrester for E Bradley, J Diver for Patsy Bradley, B McCallion for Lynch.
Referee: Ml Duffy (Sligo)