Friday 14 December 2018

Repeat of 2015 on the cards

Leinster SFC

Rory Kerr

Undoubtedly one of the success stories of 2018 - and Lord knows Leinster needs some - Longford go to Croke Park next Sunday as rank outsiders as they take on a Dublin team aiming to take another step towards an eighth successive provincial title.

While narrowly missing out on promotion to Division 2 this season at Fermanagh's expense, Longford have pushed on and the opening-round win over Meath, their first over the Royal County since 1982, sees them in the last four of the provincial championship for the first time in 30 years.

However, the meeting with Dublin is sure to revive some painful memories of their 2015 quarter-final drubbing at the hands of Jim Gavin's men, when goals from Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn, Dean Rock and Bernard Brogan helped fire Dublin to a 37-point mauling of the midlanders.

It is a measure of Dublin's strength in depth that, of those four, only Dean Rock is likely to start in Sunday's 4pm clash, although Flynn's second-half introduction in the annihilation of Wicklow the weekend before last is good news for Gavin.

Longford will point to the fact that they have been one of the few teams to have beaten Dublin since then - that was in the 2016 O Byrne Cup semi-final - but to upstage the Metropolitans at the weekend would probably rank as one of the biggest upsets of all time.

How Longford approach this game will be interesting.

Wicklow certainly did not sit back against Dublin but were quickly swallowed up in the middle third, and while James Stafford did cause Dublin some problems briefly when moved to full forward, the switching of James McCarthy to full back restored order to the Dublin full back line.

Granted, Dublin have the occasional weakness under the high ball and Stafford took advantage when fisting past Stephen Cluxton 10 minutes before the break.

But Gavin, as he showed earlier in the season when moving Johnny Cooper onto David Clifford after the former Kerry minor star had given Cian O'Sullivan something of a torrid time, has been quick with his tactical calls from the line.

Stafford's strike was something of an isolated positive moment for Wicklow and the biggest thing Longford will have to worry about is Dublin's scoring threat. Their impressive 4-25 return in Portlaoise aside, Dublin could have had three more goals in the game, with both Philly McMahon and Eric Lowndes venturing forward from the full back line and both seeing goal chances going abegging.

With 2015 Player of the Year Jack McCaffrey primed to make a return, having limped off early in Dublin's All-Ireland final win against Mayo last September, Longford will certainly have their hands full on the day.

Fingal Independent