Longford punish Rossies' lethargy
Longford 2-11 Roscommon 1-8
THEY may not get there too often, and their last league final was 45 years ago, but Croke Park has suddenly become a happy hunting ground for Longford.
Their minors won a Leinster title there last summer and their hurlers followed that up with victory in the Lory Meagher Cup.
On Saturday it was the turn of their senior footballers, who pulled off a real shock victory over fancied neighbours Roscommon. What's seldom is wonderful, even though it was a game that did little for the reputation of Division 4.
It was littered with cockeyed shooting (29 wides) and just four scores in the first 21 minutes -- Longford significantly upped their game in the second half to run out deserving victors.
Roscommon's shockingly disjointed and lethargic display set off serious alarm bells ahead of their Connacht Championship opener against New York in just a week's time.
Manager Fergal O'Donnell denied this was a factor, but their unsettled supporters left the ground hoping that this would explain it.
They were unlucky to lose Senan Kilbride to a hamstring niggle three minutes after his 15th-minute goal and he certainly wouldn't have been whipped off if their transatlantic tie wasn't in such ridiculously close proximity.
But Longford, who only scored twice in the first 34 minutes -- both of them goals -- certainly found their rhythm after the break and looked much hungrier throughout.
Their victory wasn't without drama either as goalkeeper Damien Sheridan had to pull off two great saves in succession, the first from a penalty, to seal the deal.
"It hit me full on the face, right on the nose. He had something solid behind it alright!" Sheridan quipped of stopping Karol Mannion's 52nd-minute penalty.
His second, an instinctive touch on Cathal Cregg's rocket two minutes later, was better and equally invaluable.
Yet an even bigger hero than their 'keeper was Longford corner-forward Sean McCormack.
It wasn't just that he top-scored with six points, but rather the timing of some of his best contributions.
For the first 34 minutes their 2-0 scoreline looked more suitable for Longford Town -- excellent wing-back Shane Mulligan gave the assist for both goals by Martin Brady and Paul Barden.
But when Brian Kavanagh then won a short free, McCormack put them a point ahead and then doubled that with an inspirational 40-metre free just before the interval for Longford to turn around 2-2 to 1-3 up.
As manager Glenn Ryan revealed: "We were all scratching our heads at half-time, saying 'how are we two points up?' The goals kept us in it, but those two scores just before half-time were probably the impetus for the first 15 minutes of the second half."
They resumed with quick points from Kavanagh and McCormack (a free) and then the latter got the score of the game, the ball worked deftly up the pitch by his team-mates before he scored from a very difficult angle.
From there they quickly kicked on to go nine points clear while Roscommon failed to score for a full 30 minutes.
Previously unbeaten all season, the Rossies had a drawn match with Longford in the league phase when they were without Donie Shine and the St Brigid's contingent.
Yet despite having them all back for this rematch, Roscommon looked a shadow of their Connacht champions selves.
Scoreless for the first 19 minutes after the restart, they repeatedly dropped balls short into the Canal End or kicked them aimlessly wide and they totally faded out of midfield, where Bernard McElvaney eventually eclipsed Michael Finneran.
Longford full-back Barry Gilleran made Shine look very ordinary -- he was hauled ashore early and scoreless -- and it was only when Cathal Cregg was switched to full-forward that Roscommon got back into it.
Cregg earned the penalty for Mannion and had that been scored, and he goaled his own subsequent chance, things might have been different.
But even while reducing the gap to six it was impossible to escape the feeling that many of the Rossies were minding themselves.
O'Donnell insisted they had come to win it and pointed out that they'd had plenty of chances, as evidenced by 14 wides. "We'd plenty of ball so we've no excuses -- we were just very lethargic up front, too many of our players were off the pace, Longford were a lot hungrier, they wanted the ball more and played a lot better football," he conceded.
"A trimming in Croker wasn't the preparation (for New York) that we were hoping for.
"It's always worrying when you lose but the biggest thing is how fellas respond and we've been in this position before."
Next stop for Division 4's new champions is a difficult trip to Laois in Leinster's SFC on May 22, and Ryan admitted that the early withdrawal of David Barden, a hamstring worry beforehand, was done with that in mind.
"Winning silverware is good but it's more important to meet your goals," the ex-Kildare star said. "We'd set our stall out to try and get promoted first and then, when we got to a final, to win it and we did both so that's the most important thing."
Scorers -- Longford: S McCormack 0-6 (4f), P Barden 1-2, M Brady 1-0, B Kavanagh 0-2, B McElvaney 0-1. Roscommon: C Cregg 0-4, S Kilbride 1-0, K Higgins 0-2, D Warde, C Devanney 0-1 each.
Longford -- D Sheridan 9; D Brady 8, B Gilleran 7, D Reilly 8; S Mulligan 8, D Masterson 7, N Farrell 7; B McElvaney 8, M Brady 7; P Barden (capt) 8, P Dowd 6, D Barden 6; D McElligott 6, B Kavanagh 7, S McCormack 9. Subs: K Diffley 7 for Masterson (27), N Mulligan 8 for D Barden (29), JJ Matthews 7 for Dowd (h-t), P Foy 6 for Farrell (58), F McGee 7 for McCormack (60).
Roscommon -- G Claffey 7; S McDermott 6, P Domican 7, N Carty 8; S Purcell 6, D Keenan (capt) 7, D Warde 7; M Finneran 7, K Mannion 6; C Devanney 6, K Higgins 7, C Cregg; J Rogers 5, D Shine 5, S Kilbride 7. Subs: G Heneghan 6 for Kilbride (18 mins), S O'Grady 6 for Rogers (43), I Kilbride 6 for Purcell (50), E Kenny 7 for Shine (58), T Kelly 6 for Devanney (64).
Ref -- B Cassidy (Derry).