Longford stun Meath to end 36-year wait as McEntee cries foul
Leinster SFC: Longford 0-16 Meath 0-14
For the first time since 1982 Longford experienced the sensation of defeating Meath in a Leinster Championship match, holding off a frantic late rally to create one of the surprise results of the summer to date.
Surprising but not shocking. In the spring Longford were desperately unfortunate not to earn promotion from Division 3, while Meath were only a tier above them and fortunate to stay there.
But still. Tradition usually speaks volumes when the sun is high in the sky, and counties who have not won much tend to lose games like this.
In the last 10 minutes Longford had a five-point lead but Meath clawed back to within one. Only a breathtaking one-handed save by Paddy Collum denied Eamon Wallace a goal with five minutes remaining. Somehow they hung on and in injury-time, fittingly, the experienced and injury-plagued Sean McCormack kicked the last score to considerable relief in the home crowd.
It did not pass without some controversy. Fifteen minutes into the second half Graham Reilly, Meath's best player, burst up the field and looked to have been fouled. Instead Longford turned over the ball, countered and Robbie Smyth extended their lead, 0-14 to 0-10.
Meath were in a strop and moments later Shane McEntee, son of the manager Andy, was receiving a red card after an off-the-ball flashpoint.
"What is the point in even talking about referees?" said Andy McEntee afterwards. "I don't understand. The whole thing comes from the blatant foul on Graham Reilly; it should have been a free in, he gives the free out, they go up get a score and we have a man sent off. That is some turning point in any game."
For Longford manager Denis Connerton, it was his first Leinster Championship win in two terms in charge of the county. Longford were last in the semi-finals 30 years ago.
"It's huge for us," he beamed. "We know that Dublin (next up) are a super team but we want to enjoy this first before planning for that.
"We felt we'd prepared very well all season and that we have some very good players. So it's just brilliant, it's absolutely brilliant for us to win.
"We lost a game in the last seconds against Armagh (in the League), we lost again in the last seconds here against Fermanagh, and for a little while it was deja vu there again today when Meath were coming back strongly at us and had the game down to a point. And that bit of experience from those other games stood to us really today."
Near the end their best player James McGivney looked destined to score a goal that would have spared them all that stress but Conor McGill made a spectacular save on the line.
McGivney scored four points, while Darren Gallagher pitched in with three. Michael Quinn picked up Reilly at the start but the Meath man still ended up with three from play and worked hard all over the field.
The sides were deadlocked on seven points each at half-time. Longford had excellent scores from McGivney, Rian Brady and Gallagher but they were also guilty of some poor shot selection and kicked six wides with the breeze and dropped other attempts short.
Ronan McEntire, put through by Smyth, had a penalty claim turned down and Meath grew into the match and they were level seven times.
Meath newcomer Paddy Kennelly kicked two fine scores and fellow debutant Ben Brennan landed an eye-catching effort. They had a few goal chances but failed to take any of them. Donal Keogan had a shot for goal that screwed wide, and twice Cillian O'Sullivan almost got through for a green flag.
From there Longford began to put some space between them teams, outscoring Meath 0-7 to 0-3 in the opening 15 minutes after the interval.
"We have to face into the qualifiers now, prepare properly and try to put together a performance and see where it takes us," said McEntee. "I don't think this group will wallow in pity, I don't think they are like that, but time will tell.
"There won't be anything easy in the qualifiers, but there is never anything easy anywhere. If you don't perform then you have to suffer the consequences."
Scorers - Longford: J McGivney 0-4; D Gallagher 0-3; R Brady 0-2; P Collum ('45'), D Reynolds, D McGivney (f), D Mimnagh, R Smyth, S McCormack, C Berry 0-1 each. Meath: G Reilly 0-3; P Kennelly, D Lenihan (2fs) 0-2 each, B Brennan, B Menton, D Keogan, M Burke, S Curran, E Wallace, J Wallace 0-1 each.
Longford - P Collum 8; P McCormack 7, M Quinn 7, P Fox 7; D McElligott 7, D Masterson 8, D Mimnagh 8; R McEntire 7, C Berry 7; D Reynolds 7, D Gallagher 8, D McGivney 7; R Smyth 7, J McGivney 9, R Brady 7. Subs: S McCormack 7 for Smyth (inj 66); L Connerton for Brady & P Foy for D McGivney (both 72); B Gilleran for Mimnagh (74) (too late for rating).
Meath - A Colgan 8; S Lavin 7, C McGill 8, S Curran 7; J McEntee 6, D Keogan 7, S McEntee 6; B Menton 7, P Kennelly 7; C O'Sullivan 6, B Brennan 7, M Burke 7; B McMahon 6, G Reilly 8, D Lenihan 6.
Subs: D O'Neill 7for Kennelly (46); J Wallace 7 for Brennan (54); E Wallace 7 for O'Sullivan (58); T O'Reilly for McMahon (68) (too late for rating)
REF - S Hurson (Tyrone)