Sheedy urges Longford to find ruthless streak
Longford 0-19 Offaly 0-15
A match that will scarcely register in the overall scheme of things but for Longford a significant milestone nonetheless.
It has taken 10 attempts, two of which were draws, but finally they have beaten Offaly in a Leinster championship match for the first time since 1965.
What's seldom was, if not wonderful, then satisfying for the Longford people knotted around Pearse Park in groups afterwards. The bookies expected them to win this one comfortably, posting odds of 2/5 in places, despite the weight of history against them.
That's more to do with Offaly's sharper decline than Longford's current supremacy over them. Both were relegated to Division 4 but Offaly's tumble back to the basement was much quicker than Longford's.
They made life difficult for the home side, especially in the first half when Niall McNamee took the game to them impressively and they opened a 0-9 to 0-5 lead at one stage.
But gradually Longford's more experienced forwards got a foothold and took control to win more comfortably than perhaps the scoreline would suggest.
The prize for them is another home game against Wexford, a county they have quite a bit of recent history with and who condemned them to Division 4 with victory in the last round of the league in April.
Needless to say revenge will be something on their minds in just under three weeks' time. Their manager Jack Sheedy called for more clinical finishing, obviously with the five clearcut goal chances in mind. Paul Barden had four of them, Sean McCormack had the fifth, but between them they yielded just two points. It was a luxury they may not be afforded the next day.
Offaly's woes were perhaps reflected in the muted applause that greeted their scores. The crowd was estimated at around 2,700 but finding Faithful supporters among them was like looking for needles in haystacks.
Against that background the performances of some of their forwards was laudable. At different stages Peter Cunningham, Graham Guilfoyle and Joe Maher showed impressive turns of speed and accuracy, but it was McNamee's class and influence that gave them early momentum.
By the 22nd minute they were 0-8 to 0-4 ahead and McNamee had a hand in seven of those eight points, scoring three himself (one free) and assisting in all but the opening score after 31 seconds from Graham Guilfoyle.
Longford's kick-outs were problematic. Damien Sheridan, one of the most experienced in the position, went short and wide in an attempt to pinpoint a receiver but more often than not it backfired and put them on the back foot. They failed to retain half of their 16 kick-outs in the opening period.
The impetus provided gradually waned as Longford got on top at midfield, especially in the second half, and Offaly faded badly. Michael Quinn and Brian Kavanagh were both less productive by their own standards early on but they really raised it after the break and, like McNamee at the other end, not much happened for Longford without Kavanagh's involvement.
Francis McGee was a more consistent presence for Longford, whipping over three fine points from distance but also hoovering up numerous breaks around the fringes and laying off subtle passes.
If anything it's a match that the national referees committee will review more intensely than either of the respective managements for they have possibly more to dissect on the back of a couple of controversial incidents – that didn't affect the outcome, it must be said.
The first came after 23 minutes when Longford were four points down. Kavanagh put Barden through and the veteran forward had his initial shot blocked by Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall. But he got a touch to the rebound and bundled the ball into Mulhall's net.
Referee Martin Higgins initially allowed the goal but was alerted by his umpires to their view that Barden had actually dislodged the ball from Mulhall's grasp. It was a contentious one.
"Alan Mulhall didn't contest the goal, there was no issue that it was kicked out of his hand," Sheedy reflected.
Longford still recovered and were just 0-9 to 0-8 behind before McNamee opened a two-point lead going into the break, 0-10 to 0-8, from a free after Guilfoyle was fouled.
The second controversy surrounded Offaly full-back David Hanlon's red card for striking Kavanagh off the ball in the 66th minute. Higgins first consulted with his umpires then with one of his linesmen before issuing a yellow card.
But the second linesman, Padraig O'Sullivan from Kerry, eventually got Higgins' attention and advised him that, from his point of view, it had been a red-card offence. The decision was correct but do the rules allow for such a change? Is it not a case of once an incident has been dealt with it can't be revisited?
The dismissal of Hanlon didn't have an impact in an overall context. By then Longford were in control, leading by 0-16 to 0-13 after a smart third quarter that had taken them from two points down at the break to two clear, 0-13 to 0-11.
Kavanagh was fouled for the first point of the second half and scored the next two as they took the lead. The benefit of sitting out Thursday night's club championship match with Kilmacud Crokes, that they lost, clearly told.
Only the class of McNamee kept Offaly within reasonable distance in the second half and his two points were sublime. Offaly manager Emmett McDonnell felt his team lost their way at midfield after the break.
"At half-time we thought we could push on. But we didn't win enough ball around the middle in the second half. Their experienced forwards hurt us a little bit in the second half. We missed our full-back Paul McConway, Brian Kavanagh did a lot of damage inside. They have a lot of experience up front and that probably told in the end," he said.
Sheedy was pleased with the way both Quinn and Kavanagh got into the game. "Good players come to the fore in big games and we obviously need that. Michael was very, very good, very industrious and worked really hard.
"But when you have a target man like Brian Kavanagh to play off, if you can get him a decent supply of ball, and we did, particularly in the second half, then it worked very well."
Scorers – Longford: S McCormack 0-7 (5fs), B Kavanagh, F McGee 0-3 each, M Hughes, P Barden 0-2 each, M Quinn, S Mulligan 0-1 each. Offaly: N McNamee 0-7 (3fs), P Cunningham, J Maher, G Guilfoyle 0-2 each, R Allen, C Hurley 0-1 each.
Longford – D Sheridan 6; D Brady 6, B O'Farrell 5, F Battrim 6; C P Smyth 6, E Williams 6, S Mulligan 7; J Keegan 6, M Quinn 8; S Doyle 7, F McGee 8, P Barden 7; M Hughes 6, B Kavanagh 8, S McCormack 7. Subs: P Foy 6 for Doyle (55), M Brady 6 for Keegan (57), A Rowan for Hughes (60).
Offaly – A Mulhall 7; D Brady 6, D Hanlon 6, N Darby 6; B Darby 7, J Moloney 5, M Brazil 6; R Allen 5, N Smith 6; E Carroll 5, G Guilfoyle 7, A Sullivan 6; J Maher 6, N McNamee 8, P Cunningham 7. Subs: N Geraghty for Allen (45), C Hurley for Guilfoyle (58), P McPadden for Maher (63).
Ref – M Higgins (Fermanagh)
Game at a glance
Man of the match: Francis McGee (Longford)
For consistency in both halves McGee edges his colleague Brian Kavanagh, though Offaly's Niall McNamee was as classy and dangerous as ever. McGee swung over three fine points from distance and put so much other ball through his hands.
Any of the three points that took Longford from 0-9 to 0-5 down to within a point just before half-time – they registered a shift in the balance of this match.
Decisions made by the referee in consultation with his officials. Paul Barden had a goal disallowed in the first half for allegedly kicking the ball from the grasp of Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall but only after referee Martin Higgins was alerted to it by his umpires. David Hanlon was yellow-carded for striking Brian Kavanagh but the penalty was upgraded to red after the intervention from a linesman. Do the rules allow for this?
There was much consultation between all the officials as encouraged by the national referees committee. They got the Offaly red card right but only after Hanlon was shown yellow. Barden's disallowed goal was a contentious decision.
What They Said
Jack Sheedy (Longford manager):
"We're very relieved but very happy. It was a good performance in the second half – for most of it. We probably need to be a little more clinical in front of goal, but considering where we've come from during the league it was a big performance."
Emmet McDonnell (Offaly manager):
"We missed our full-back Paul McConway, Brian Kavanagh did a lot of damage inside. They have a lot of experience up front and that probably told in the end."
Longford 12 (7 in the first half)
Offaly 11 (6)
Longford 18 (10)
Offaly 13 (8)
Longford 2 (Brian Kavanagh 58, Colm P Smyth 71)
Offaly 1 (Johnny Moloney 27).
Offaly 1 (David Hanlon 66)
Longford meet Wexford in the Leinster quarter-final on the weekend of June 7/8, Offaly are into the first-round qualifiers on June 28/29.