Monday 19 February 2018

Eugene McGee: Football euphoria grips Longford after slaying of Farney goliath

Cian Farrelly and Brian Kavanagh celebrate. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Cian Farrelly and Brian Kavanagh celebrate. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

"I had to leave the kitchen and go upstairs so that I wouldn't hear the radio commentary. The tension was just too much for me in the last 10 minutes of the game and I had to come down after it was over and ask the wife who had won. I haven't had this sort of excitement about a Longford football team for years."

This is how a farmer I met on Saturday night described the effect that Longford's dramatic Qualifier victory over Monaghan in Clones had on him, and I suspect a lot of other Longford people.

Now this was not a Leinster final or an All-Ireland semi-final, it was merely a second-round Qualifier win, but it was over Monaghan who won the last two Ulster titles and are in Division 1 of the League.

Longford, on the other hand, finished mid-table in Division 3 and were beaten by Offaly, 2-21 to 2-13, in the first round of the Leinster Championship on May 15. And despite beating Down, who had not won a game in the previous 15 months, Longford people were not expecting a win like this, as was proven by the few hundred people who went to Clones.

But from the minute the radio commentary on Shannonside Radio kicked in at 6.30 a strange atmosphere evolved around the county. Once Mickey Quinn buried the ball in the Monaghan net a few minutes from the start, Longford fans became energised to a level they have not encountered for a few years. As the game developed and it became clear that a sensational result was possible, the tension mounted.

Could this really be happening? Then we remembered that Longford is the only county to have beaten Dublin in 2016, OK it was only the O'Byrne Cup but we take every morsel of success we can get in Longford.

The drama continued and inevitably Monaghan found their feet after playing two brutally demanding games in the previous 15 days against Donegal.

They rattled over 1-5 before half-time with no response from Longford and old failings began to haunt. But hallelujah, what happened next upped the ante when Longford grabbed three quick points after the break from Diarmuid Masterson, James McGivney and Brian Kavanagh.

It showed there would be no collapse this time, and from there to the finish this was a fantastic contest as both sides threw everything at it. Normally in the history of Longford football, when faced with a much higher-grade team they would be overwhelmed or maybe they would put up a fight, of sorts. But inevitably they lose out.

This time was different. Longford went toe-to-toe with their illustrious rivals and when Robbie Smyth scored a great goal a few minutes from time to go four ahead the miracle was at hand.

Conor McManus replied with a free for Monagahan but it was soon over, 2-13 to 1-13 and football euphoria, a rare commodity where I live, descended on the county.

The technology gurus soon told us that Longford would be playing Cork, Mayo or Kildare next Saturday but the sensation had changed dramatically from hope to confidence regardless of the opponents. That's what a great win can do, transformation in an instant.

Longford manager Denis Connerton must take huge credit for this result and indeed in his previous term in charge he also beat Monaghan in the Qualifiers, in 2004.

He had also brought Longford to Division 1 and in their first game in the top flight in 2004 they beat Kerry, who were under a new manager, Jack O'Connor.

Apart from his coaching and managerial skills he managed to recover some 'lost sheep' to the Longford fold, players who had opted out in previous times. Smyth, the best forward in the county, did not play last year but Connerton used his experience and guile to make sure he was back for 2016.

This sort of absenteeism is rampant among all so-called weaker counties in Ireland but many managers seem unable to influence these players at great cost to the county team. Connerton is different and Longford has benefited.

If Longford get a home fixture there will be embarrassment because Glennon Brothers Pearse Park is under a cloud as a result of health and safety concerns over the stand, and would be unavailable.

The Leinster game with Offaly had to be conceded to Tullamore and it would be shocking for the Longford public if a game against Kildare, Cork or Mayo had to be forfeited but the draw today may take care of that.

In the meantime, Longford people can walk on air, at least for the next five days, and dream about getting to the All-Ireland quarter-finals in Croke Park for the first time.

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