Offaly facing another summer of discontent after Longford loss

Pat Flanagan left frustrated after Jack Sheedy’s side overturn seven-point deficit

Ronan McEntire of Longford competes for the ball with Offaly’s Johnny Moloney during the Leinster SFC first-round match at O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Photo:  Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Ronan McEntire of Longford competes for the ball with Offaly’s Johnny Moloney during the Leinster SFC first-round match at O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Down in the weeds, you spend most if your life tangled and trapped. If Saturday night in Tullamore taught us one thing, it was that teams from down the divisions don’t have bad footballers. They’re just laden with too many who don’t know how to win.

Both sides did their level best to throw this game away. In the end it was Offaly who managed to walk out of O’Connor Park having left it behind, although Longford gave them a damn good run for it right to the very end.

In injury-time, with Offaly three behind and in desperate need of a goal, Conor McNamee was somehow allowed to get his fist to a dropped-in free despite being surrounded by four Longford defenders. It needed a sprawling save from Paddy Collum in the Longford goal to keep it out and buy Longford their first win in Tullamore since 1943.

It shouldn’t have come to that. Longford kicked five of the first seven points. They kicked 11 of the last 12. They missed a penalty at the end of the first half. For two long, bubbling spells of the game, they wrapped Offaly in a boa’s embrace and squeezed the puff right out of them. And still they needed the tips of Collum’s fingers to get them across the line.

On the flipside, it really shouldn’t have come to that for Offaly either. They led by seven points heading into the closing 20 minutes. They kicked 10 points on the bounce either side of half-time. They spent the evening on the right side of a referee who seven times brought frees forward for Longford dissent.

And although they lost the influential Niall Smith to a black card after 19 minutes and full-back Paul McConway to injury on 55, they still had the scoreboard tilting their way as they entered the last five minutes. They just didn’t know how to win.

“We thought we were progressing after our league final performance,” sighed Pat Flanagan. “We felt that we were on the right road. But it proved that mentally, we’re still a bit weak. Because when the pressure came on, we crumbled, to be totally honest. There’s no point in saying any different. When our backs were to the wall, we didn’t dig deep enough.

Longford manager Jack Sheedy on his side's win over Offaly

Offaly manager Pat Flanagan after the defeat to Longford

“Basically, I think mentally we’re not in the right place yet. There is a lot of history. We haven’t won a championship match for seven or eight years and it showed out there today. We need to build the boys mentally and physically.”

Longford played against a stiff enough breeze in the first half and had five points on the board inside the opening 23 minutes. Mickey Quinn glided around the middle of the pitch like a park ranger, tidying up where he had to and dealing with miscreants as he pleased. The hits were heavy for a while and when Offaly midfielder Smith got a little too into the spirit of it all with a late hit on Kevin Diffley, he saw a black card for his troubles.

At first, Offaly made light of his absence. Despite trailing 0-5 to 0-2 in the 25th minute, they took such complete control of matters from there on. Niall McNamee was all class, swinging over a couple of gorgeous points and putting Joseph O’Connor and Bernard Allen in for scores of their own. A missed Quinn penalty meant that with 12 minutes gone in the second half, Offaly were 0-12 to 0-5 ahead.

But it’s eight years since they won a Leinster Championship match. With Smith gone and McConway hobbling off, it meant that the only survivor from that win over Carlow in 2007 left on the pitch was McNamee and suddenly they couldn’t get the ball to him.

Longford had the wind now, so they had a chance. Quinn started asserting himself in midfield, Brian Kavanagh called every ball on himself in attack. The veteran forward kicked a free, then swung a point over his shoulder. Offaly’s lead started to fall into the sea, pebble by pebble, rock by rock.

Dessie Reynolds and Paul Foy came off the bench and scored with virtually their first touch, Diarmuid Masterson and Ross McNerney sluiced through the middle of the Offaly defence untouched for points of their own.

The home side were choking and there wasn’t a Dr Heimlich among them. Longford eased clear with further points from Reynolds, Colm P Smyth, McNerny and an exceptional effort from Kavanagh and go on now to meet Dublin in a fortnight.

“Nobody in the country gives us a chance in hell really to beat Dublin,” said Jack Sheedy. “And we’ve got to be realistic, they’re three divisions higher than us and probably second favourites for the All-Ireland this year or very close to it. They have a completely different dynamic to what we have. All we can ask from the guys on any given day is that they do their level best and try their hardest and they put in a very solid shift.”

OFFALY: 1 Alan Mulhall; 2 Brian Darby, 3 Paul McConway, 4 Daithí Brady; 5 Niall Darby, 6 Johnny Moloney, 7 Joseph O’Connor (0-1); 8 Graham Guilfoyle (0-1, free), 9 Niall Smith; 10 Eoin Carroll, 11 Niall McNamee (0-2), 12 Anton Sullivan; 13 Bernard Allen (0-2, one free), 14 Nigel Dunne (0-3), 15 Willie Mulhall (0-4, all frees).

Subs: C McNamee for Smith (black card, 19 mins); 17 J Ledwith for McConway (55 mins); 23 Peter Cunningham for Allen (58 mins); 19 Cian Donoghue for Carroll (68 mins); 24 Nigel Bracken for Dunne (68 mins).

LONGFORD: 1 Paddy Collum; 2 Dermot Brady, 3 Barry O’Farrell, 19 Cian Farrelly; 5 Colm P Smyth (0-2), 6 Diarmuid Masterson (0-1), 21 Barry McKeon (0-2, one free); 8 Barry Gilleran, 9 Kevin Diffley; 10 Ronan McEntire (0-1), 11 Michael Quinn, 12 Shane Doyle; 24 Rory Connor, 14 Brian Kavanagh (0-5, three frees), 15 Francis McGee.

Subs: 26 Dessie Reynolds (0-2) for McGee (34 mins); 13 Ross McNerney (0-2, one free) for Doyle (half-time); 4 Peter Foy (0-1) for Connor (55 mins); 25 Liam Connorton for McKeon (59 mins).

Referee: Pádraig O’Sullivan (Kerry)

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