Longford not getting carried away with Dublin win

Dennis Connerton’s team had a first win in 16 years against the All-Ireland champions

Longford 1-12 Dublin 0-9

“No one is getting carried away,” said Denis Connerton, although no harm pretending. It’s not often Longford get to beat the All-Ireland champions no matter what time of year.

Indeed it’s been 16 years since they last beat Dublin in any senior competition (when last winning the O’Byrne Cup), and when they met in the Leinster championship last summer Longford lost by 27 points. Even for the middle of January it’s no exaggeration to call that progress

For Connerton - in his second coming as Longford manager - it was hard to disguise at least some depth of satisfaction, helped by the fact his son Liam finished off the only goal of the game which sealed the mildly significant victory. “Well he’d have been in trouble if didn’t score it,” Connerton said with a smile.

The six-point winning margin is no exaggeration either of how much better they were than Dublin. With eight different scorers and an impressively solid defence Longford were perfectly deserving winners: three points up at half time, they resisted Dublin’s briefly ominous comeback in the second half (fronted by mainly by Dean Rock) and in the end left them well and truly beaten. An early-season fluke for the O’Farrell county this was most certainly not.

“How much this competition means to Dublin I don’t know” added, who previously managed Longford from 2002-04. “But we worked very hard today, got some of the run of the ball, and that was very important to us. So we’re happy with the result, happy with the performance, and that’s what it’s all about.

“And of course playing the All-Ireland champions at home is a big occasion for Longford, especially after the beating we took last May. That was in our minds. These players have pride, and while we mightn’t always be able to get where we want to get we are always hard to beat in Pearse Park, and I think you saw that out there. We always look for effort firstly, and we got that. Those boys are exhausted.”

The effort was complete - from the tireless defence of the veteran Dermot Brady to the repeated attacking play from the likes of Francis McGee, Robbie Smyth, Darren Gallagher and Barry McKeon. Michael Brady was also throwing his physicality around and helped set up their goal on 64 minutes, fetching a pass from McGee, before the young Connerton, not long off the bench, pounced on the idle ball to drive it home.

Another point for McGee actually sent Longford seven points clear, and while Dublin had the last word through Ciaran Reddin, by then the game was done and dusted. It marked Dublin’s first competitive defeat since losing to Kerry in round three of the league almost 11 months ago, and also means they will surrender their O’Byrne Cup title - with Longford going on to play Meath in the final in Navan next Sunday.

Not that Jim Gavin is getting carried away either. The Dublin manager wasn’t even mildly critical of his team’s performance, and it anything the clear run of two weeks training before the opening league game against Kerry might well serve them better than an O’Byrne Cup final.

“You have to give credit to Longford for a great performance,” said Gavin. “For the month of January I thought they looked very fit, covered the ground very easily, and fully deserving on the victory. But we’ve had four good games in this competition and we’re very pleased with that.

“And it was a good test for some of the players trying to break into our squad. We’ve learnt a lot from the performances. I’d be a little disappointed with the few chances we had to draw the game level, but they pushed on down the other end, and again played very well, all over the park.

“But I couldn’t but commend the effort of thee Dublin players. They tried their hardest to get back into the game, but again Longford played well throughout. They’re a proud GAA country and well done to them. last year we went to Cork and lost the opening round of the league, so it shouldn’t have any impact on the league.”

Gavin also confirmed that goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, who made his first appearance this year, will continue as Dublin captain for 2016, and while the likes of Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan will likely return for the first round of the league, others such as Paul Flynn will be held back for another few weeks.

Longford still have to welcome back the likes of Michael Quinn and Brian Kavanagh, although the challenge for Connerton now is to weigh the expectations of the O'Byrne Cup final against that of the Allianz Football League: "We last won this competition 16 years ago," said Connerton. "We're on the road, and how quickly we can get down from the high of this we will have to see. And we have to keep one eye on the start of the league, the following week, and pray we come through without any major injuries. We don't have the big squads like other panel. These are bonus matches for us, which we've said all along."

Not that many people expected the bonus of beating All-Ireland champions Dublin.

LONGFORD: P Collum; F Battrim; B Gilleran, C Smyth; A Dalton, D Brady, D Masterson; M Brady, B Farrell (0-1); B McKeon (0-2, one free), J McGivney (0-1), D Gallaher (0-1); R Smyth (0-3, all frees), F McGee (0-3, two frees), M Hughes.

Subs: P McKeon (0-1) for M Hughes (46 mins), P Ryan for O’Callaghan (45 mins), D McElligot for Farrell (53 mins), L Connerton (1-0) for Smyth (60 mins), C Shields for P McKeon (66 mins, black card), P McGee for F McGee (68 mins)

DUBLIN: S Cluxton (capt); J Cooper, J Curley, P McMahon; J McCarthy, J Small, D Daly (0-1); C Reddin (0-2), D Bastick; T Brady (0-1), D Rock (0-3, two frees), S Carthy; C Costello (0-1), P Andrews (0-1), C O'Callaghan.

Subs: N Scully for Bastick (41 mins), C Mullally for Carthy (61 mins), M Deegan for Andrews (66 mins)

Referee: John Hickey (Carlow).