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Eugene McGee: Triumph of graft over craft for perennial underdogs

The purists will claim the Longford v Wexford game at Croke Park yesterday was not a great spectacle and that the quality of football was far removed from top grade.

But one has to allow for the fact that smaller counties, with fewer players to pick from, will always be under pressure to match the exploits of the big counties like Dublin, Kerry, Galway and Cork.

So, counties like Longford, with a population of around 35,000, and Wexford's, where the large population is halved for football purposes, must inevitably replace class with graft to survive.

That was what we got yesterday and nobody could fault the personal commitment of every player despite difficult playing conditions.

And there were many bouts of play that matched what the top teams provide, such as the scoring achievements of Longford's Brian Kavanagh and Adrian Flynn from Wexford, who scored four and five glorious points from play respectively.

One wonders how many players from the teams in the quarter-finals this year will match that tally.

Flynn, in particular, was spectacular because he got his five points from the right half-back position. It was just as well for Wexford that he did so; otherwise his team would have been well beaten -- largely because of their own errors and mismanagement of resources.

Wexford and Longford both have stronger attacks than defences but the approach to capitalising on this fact was so different.


Longford, particularly in the first half, were willing and able to move the ball out of defence quickly with well-directed long kicks to Kavanagh and Sean McCormack, which brought good results.

Wexford, on the other hand, slowed the ball down with an orgy of handpassing when they won possession, players bunching in the middle of the field and ignoring wing play, with the result that the Longford defence were able to play very well, which surely upset the Wexford tactical approach.

Even the final free, which deprived Wexford of victory, was conceded as a result of yet another silly attempted cross-field kick. Longford midfielder Bernard McElvanny heroically battled to turn over possession and that led to Paul Kelly being fouled for the free which yielded the levelling point.

This was Wexford's first match in the championship whereas Longford had already beaten Laois and this was very important. Several Wexford regulars were all at sea for the first half, even though the sides were meeting for the third time this year.

Full-back Graeme Molloy never managed to get near Kavanagh when he was scoring those five exquisite points in the first half. After the break, however, he did far better, which shows how important it is to be match-fit.

Even average county teams can produce star players and Longford's Paul Barden has been filling that role for a dozen years now.

Like all great players, he is judicious in timing the use of his talents and yesterday his brilliant goal in the 46th minute, when the teams were level, saved Longford when they looked in serious trouble, having given away three points in six minutes after the break.

Both teams will learn a lot from this game -- particularly Wexford, who seemed at times to think this was a match they could play only on their own terms. Sadly for them, those terms were inadequate at times. We will have to wait and see if Jason Ryan's men are willing or capable of changing their approach.

Longford, on the other hand, need only to work even harder next day to be still in at least a 50-50 situation.

Footnote: I mentioned an injury to Louth's Shane O'Hanlon in my article in Saturday's Irish Independent. That should, of course, have been Shane Lennon, who has a long-term injury. Apologies.

Irish Independent