Tyrone will bring out best in us -- Kavanagh
BRIAN Kavanagh was among the 10,000-strong crowd that packed into Pearse Park in the spring of 2004.
It was an unseasonably large attendance, even if the reigning All-Ireland champions Tyrone were in town. But then they were heady times for Longford.
Back in the top flight of the league for the first time in 30 years, the midlanders were making waves. They scalped Kerry in the opening round -- their first victory over the Kingdom since 1972 -- and followed that up with a win over neighbours Westmeath.
They were brought back to earth with a bang, though, as Mickey Harte's side romped to a 15-point win, and tonight marks Tyrone's first return to the midlands since.
"I remember being there," Kavanagh recalls. "We all went there to see the big stars who had just won the All-Ireland and they just blew us away. They were very impressive."
Considering the respective depth of their resources, it's incredible to think that Longford had just three of the side that played that day involved in their qualifier win over Cavan a fortnight ago (goalkeeper Damien Sheridan, and Paul and David Barden), while Tyrone had 10 survivors in their defeat to Donegal.
"That was a long time ago now and they have achieved so much as a team. These are the sides you want to test yourself against, but the first thing we wanted was a home draw," says Kavanagh.
Longford have taken a shine to the qualifiers when handed home advantage. Mayo were beaten last year and Down could only fall over the line on the way to an All-Ireland final.
In 2006 Longford won three games on the bounce, culminating with a victory over Derry. They were spoiling parties back in the '60s too when they turned over Galway's great three-in-a-row side in the 'home' league final of 1966.
More recently, Dublin came perilously close to defeat in Leinster in Paul Caffrey's only championship match as manager outside Croke Park, and Kerry also flirted with danger in 2009. The big days and the big teams seem to get the best from Longford.
"Pearse Park is an open pitch and that suits the type of football we're trying to play," says Kavanagh. "The crowd can feel like it's in on top of you.
"In saying that the crowd can't cross the white line and play for you. Tyrone are 15 household names and you're going out to try and match them or beat them.
"You'd have to be enthusiastic about this sort of game. The big teams probably make it a bit easier to focus."
They don't come much bigger than Tyrone and in the video sessions this week, Kavanagh saw enough to know that Harte's side are far from finished.
He stressed that when they pushed themselves into an early 0-6 to 0-1 lead against Donegal they could have been "out of sight," but for some wayward shooting.
"A good team like Tyrone don't fade away like that," he says. "Some of their shooting let them down against Donegal, but they dominated for long periods."
For Longford, it's a chance to further establish Pearse Park as a graveyard for some of the GAA's glamour sides.
And even if Tyrone have lost just two of their 14 matches in the back door, there's plenty of reasons for Longford to be optimistic.
Their minor footballers won last year's Leinster title, while the U-21s reached a provincial final earlier this year.
Glenn Ryan's side also secured the Division 4 title at the expense of Roscommon.
"When we get any bit of success we try and build on it, be it the minors or whoever," says Kavanagh.
"You want to get into the habit of winning games. We were very disappointed with the loss to Laois, but we were happy with our second half against Cavan and the weekend is another chance for us now."