Longford happy as Larries to upset Laois men

Conor McKeon

SO when is a shock not really a shock at all? In the ever-changing picture of Gaelic football, just where exactly lies the threshold for shockability?

Longford 1-10 Laois 0-12

Longford won their first Leinster SFC game in five years against Laois in Pearse Park yesterday and no one was remotely shocked.

Justin McNulty looked slightly traumatised... but definitely not shocked.

All week long, those entrusted with forming football opinion took a look at Laois's spring, another at Longford's and announced knowingly that -- whisper it -- there could be a little surprise.

In fact, the result might just have been the most widely-predicted 'upset' in Leinster championship history.

No matter for Longford. They partied like the demon had been banished from the town for good.

"There's no doubt we had a monkey on our back in terms of having to win a Leinster match," gasped an utterly relieved Glenn Ryan afterwards.

"We did that, thank God and we did it in the best way you could because it took a huge amount of character.

"But we probably saved our worst performance of the year for the biggest day of the year."

Point well made. Longford were a low-rent duplicate of their former selves in a low-key first half but luckily for them, Laois came equipped with a self-destruct mechanism. Credit Longford's revival, though, after a fairly traumatic opening 35 minutes.

Paul Barden ran the show like an old-school centre-forward, his brother David only marginally less effective.

Paul's second-half goal lit the touch paper for a fairly epic comeback, completed by the 58th minute when the hugely influential Michael Quinn bent a 45-metre effort off the outside of his right foot over the bar to level matters before Seán McCormack and Brian Kavanagh made completely sure.


"You look for fellas to take responsibility and try to make the right decision," praised Ryan. "I prefer to see fellas try to do something rather than shy off and maybe over the years that's what we've done."

Prior to this, the rise of Longford under Ryan has been confined to spring progress so the twin burdens of palpable local and national expectation were something of a new departure.

That brought its own pressures and it showed, particularly in the first half which they contrived to lose by 0-9 to 0-3. Laois's collapse was, however, spectacular in its gruesomeness.

Just three points scored in the entire second half, 14 wides in total and a lack of wherewithal to halt the momentum of Longford's comeback.

It wasn't so much that Longford upped their efforts to freight-train levels of unstoppable velocity when the need arose. They just kept chugging along, asking awkward questions.

The answers weren't forthcoming and Laois melted. McNulty blamed it all on their shooting and identified their inaccuracy as the sole conspirer in their defeat. He even invented a word for it -- "clinicality".

"Probably the biggest factor was that they took their chances and we didn't. Simple as that," he said, adding that "bar a little bit of clinicality, it was a complete performance".

Defensively, certainly, Laois were decent. In the middle third, they dominated the possession battle and with Darren Strong and Conor Boyle chipping in with three points between them from the half-back line, some of the boxes were ticked.

As an attacking unit, however, they malfunctioned. Pádraig Clancy was criminally underused as a target man. Corner-men Ross Munnelly and Gary Walsh contributed just two points from play between them and those coming from deep -- John O'Loughlin in particular -- lacked the poise to convert good late chances.

Longford believed, the crowd got behind them and as McNulty rightly pointed out "there were a few hometown decisions during the game which is always going to happen in championship. It's something you have to deal with and you have to beat the referee as well."

As it happened, Laois only beat themselves and Longford capitalised and earned a spot in the Leinster quarter-final with Wexford.

"To be able to take the pressure on that they've had to over the last couple of weeks, on their home patch, and everybody expecting them to turn over a big gun like Laois was brilliant," noted Ryan before adding: "Wexford looking at that will be delighted, a completely different team to the one they played up in Croke Park so we'll have to improve hugely."