Monday 23 April 2018

Longford's giant-killers hope to create further back door history

A delighted Cian Farrelly and Brian Kavanagh after Longford’s victory over Monaghan but will they be celebrating again today? Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
A delighted Cian Farrelly and Brian Kavanagh after Longford’s victory over Monaghan but will they be celebrating again today? Photo: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

With all the talk of blanket defences and double sweepers Longford's giant-killing run through the qualifiers has been a breath of fresh air, fuelling life into a ailing championship season.

While the glory days of an historic National League success 50 years ago, and securing their sole senior Leinster crown two years later, may be a distant memory, the midlanders have continued to uphold tradition.

The qualifiers were introduced 15 years ago to give counties like Longford a second chance, to ensure that training during the bleak winter months wasn't all in vain and they are the poster boys of its success with a remarkable list of big-name scalps accumulated since 2001.

While championship exit is disappointing, their annual trip through the back door always generates great excitement and they haven't disappointed again this year with sensational wins away to Division 1 opposition in Down and Monaghan.

Former goalkeeper Damien Sheridan enjoyed his finest moments in a Longford shirt during the "safety net" of the qualifiers and describes the mentality which has allowed them to flourish once again.

"We embrace it," the current Longford Games Development Administrator says. "Every team that gets beaten in the championship always have regrets and they play out those scenarios for the following week. If they could go at it the following Sunday they'd have found all the answers.

"That's what they give you. You wouldn't be talking about it before championship but you know it's there in the background. If you're beaten you know you're not out, you'd have the six days of depression after being beaten and then you'd come back again."

The club championship wasn't due to commence until this weekend with Sheridan emphasising that it's "based around the end of the qualifiers" to aid the county side and give a realistic opportunity to regroup.

And regroup they certainly have. After an eight-point reversal to Offaly, a game originally fixed for Pearse Park but changed to O'Connor Park for health and safety reasons, they have jumped straight back on the horse.

The multiple Kick Fada champion feels that Dublin's presence within Leinster is crippling other counties and admits that the only way to salvage anything from most seasons is through the back door.

"Dublin have really ruined the Leinster Championship for a lot of teams. In order to beat Dublin you need to fundamentally change the way you play and go super defensive or continue to do what you do and get beaten well and then continue on into the qualifiers," he says.

"That has really knocked the stuffing out of a lot of Leinster teams like the Meaths and the Kildares, Dublin have really softened everyone up in Leinster and the qualifiers are your only route of achieving anything.

"Longford have taken that approach, as soon as it became apparent that we were losing first round matches, all of a sudden you had a second chance and that was absolutely brilliant for us.

"Playing against a team that you have no hang-ups with rather than a Westmeath, Kildare or a Meath beating you every second year. These are teams that you might play once every five years and that fear factor is not there."

That sentiment is echoed by Sheridan's former team-mate Martin Mulleady, who famously scored a point during their 2004 qualifier win over Monaghan as he was awaiting the local election count in Drumlish to see if he would take a seat on the Longford County Council (he succeeded).

"We could never meet the heights of Dublin and Meath when I was playing and that system where you could catch teams on the hop was ideal as they didn't expect much from us. What we found was that we were an unknown team," he says.

"When you're unknown and you expect the other team to beat you it brings complacency when you play a team from a different province. I always expect Longford to get a run in the qualifiers, they suit us. It's very hard for those teams to raise their game when they're playing a lower division team that hasn't competed at Leinster final level."

Mulleady was part of the minor backroom team which collected a famous Leinster title in 2010 and is delighted to see six of that crop thrive under Denis Connerton including the likes of Paddy Collum and Barry McKeon.

A win against 2010 All-Ireland champions Cork would spark jubilant scenes in Pearse Park today, which has been deemed fit to facilitate the tie, and while the Fianna Fáil councillor is wary, he wants more of the same.

"It's going to bring a great buzz to the town, it's almost a novelty factor and we'll go with plenty of hope. Nobody likes coming to Pearse Park, we've taken some great scalps down through the years at various grades but I am small bit concerned," he says.

"We don't need to start believing our own hype. Cork have a different pedigree, they've been wounded all year but they could come out and give you a right trimming, we need to keep the scoreboard down early and then take it from there.

"The pundits will predict Cork and they have to. Cork are the traditional county for winning All-Irelands and playing in league and Munster finals, we're not.

"We all went out on the pitch in Clones to congratulate them, you see the joy. You'll probably never get the heights of Croke Park winning a Leinster or All-Ireland but to us, this means as much."

A huge day for Longford in Pearse Park, could the qualifiers' giant-killers have one sucker punch left in their locker?

Irish Independent

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