Thursday 22 March 2018

Longford's starring role on night of drama in qualifiers

Aisling Crowe

RED cards, melees, goalmouth scrambles and last-gasp attempts at winners. The first round of matches in the All-Ireland football qualifiers was packed with enough drama for a Hollywood blockbuster with the clash of Longford and Derry taking centre stage.

Longford dumped Derry out of the race for Sam for the second time in six years at Pearse Park and Sean McCormack was the star of the show, kicking 11 of Longford's 17 points. After a long delay for an injury to Longford midfielder John Keegan in the second half, the tension mounted as the teams traded scores. Barry McGoldrick's second goal gave Derry a two-point lead going into the extended period of injury-time but Longford were not to be denied.

They kicked a series of unanswered points to regain the initiative. There was still time for drama, though, as McGoldrick was sent off for a second yellow for his part in a goalmouth fracas and Joe Diver had a contentious goal disallowed for Derry in scenes reminiscent of Joe Sheridan's controversial score against Louth. Somehow Longford managed to survive to record a 0-17 to 2-8 success.

Afterwards, Derry manager John Brennan expressed his disappointment with the performance of the referee. "Joe Diver caught the ball clean and was dragged to the ground and he and ball ended up in the net. We've seen that given. But we're not surprised with Mr Duffy -- we all saw that last week too."

Brennan refused to be drawn on his future and bemoaned the absentees that Derry were forced to contend without. "This year everything has gone against us," he said.

Luke Dempsey became the first managerial casualty of the football season when he stepped down after Carlow's defeat to Laois in O'Moore Park. Carlow put up a determined challenge but their neighbours pulled away in the end on a score line of 1-10 to 0-9.

MJ Tierney came on midway through the second half to make the difference in this hotly contested local derby. The Parnells man was sprung from the subs bench by Justin McNulty and his introduction had a huge influence on the outcome of the game. It was nip and tuck until then but his three points and an injury-time score from David Conway was enough to ensure that Laois will be in the draw tomorrow.

A brave performance from 13-man Louth wasn't enough to prevent them from going down to Westmeath. Louth lost Mark Brennan and Darren Clarke in the first half but still went in two points up at the break. Westmeath began to pull away in the second half but amazingly Louth fought back to level the match with less than 10 minutes on the clock. John Heslin was sent off for Westmeath but the effort of playing with 13 players for so long told on Louth and the Midlands team were able to pull out that bit more when it counted to record a 1-15 to 0-12 victory and gain revenge over Louth for knocking them out in the first round of the Leinster championship.

Earlier in the afternoon, Wicklow needed extra time to see off the challenge of 14-man Waterford in a thrilling game at Aughrim. Despite the blow of going a man down, Waterford led the home team at half-time. Wicklow rallied after the break but couldn't shake off a dogged Waterford side. Alan Byrne's late point for the Deise forced the game into extra time. Wicklow eventually managed to shake off the dogged attentions of Waterford and ran out 1-17 to 0-15 winners.

Despite missing a penalty in the first half, Tipperary were comfortable winners over Offaly at Semple Stadium. Antrim escaped from Ruislip with a slim two-point victory over London. The Exiles had the better of the early exchanges but Antrim just did enough to win.

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