THE Limerick footballers caused a major shock on Saturday when they beat Longford by 1-21 to 1-15 after extra time in Pearse Park.
Limerick football epics are supposed to happen against Cork or Kerry or, at a stretch, during promotion from the lower levels of the league.
An All-Ireland round 2 qualifier in Pearse Park is not where they’re expected but, on Saturday, this team that just won’t go away produced one of their gutsiest ever performances to sideswipe the Longford bandwagon. Not given a prayer by any neutral commentator, Maurice Horan’s charges out-thought, out-fought and outlasted opponents brimming with ambition following their ambush of Derry a fortnight earlier.
It might have needed extra time to deliver the result but the final margin of six points in no way flatters the winners. Right from the throw-in, Limerick got in their opponents’ faces, contested every square inch of the field, overran midfield and blew dangermen Paul Barden and Brian Kavanagh out of any meaningful contribution from the spine of the Longford attack.
And when it came down to the twenty energy-sapping minutes added to the end of a full-blooded contest, their legs strode longer and their hearts beat stronger to run out comfortable winners.
In fact, it should never have taken them that long to prevail.
Despite opening against the wind, their discipline at the back and their patient attacking had them holding a comfortable lead only for Longford to poach a goal and a point inside twenty seconds just before half-time.
It was enough to keep the Leinstermen in contact and helped them build up a three-point advantage as veteran Limerick legs tied up with ten minutes to go but, once the youngsters were let loose from the bench, the one-way traffic to the end was broken by just a single homeside break that nearly delivered an undeserved escape.
Fittingly, too, it was Abbeyfeale youngster Derry O’Connor who sent the tie into overtime. Sent in as last throw of the dice, his first contact with the ball was blocked down but, showing the tenacity of his team-mates, he regained possession to tie the game up at the death before opening the extra time scoring and closing it with Limerick’s only goal.
Attacking continuously from the throw-in, Longford were restricted to Paul Barden’s opening point as they were forced into a string of misses before Seanie Buckley equalised from a quick free. The hosts picked it up to go back in front throough Francis McGee and Seán McCormack’s free but, with Limerick getting an increasing return in midfield, their patient attacks led Stephen Kelly and Stephen Lucey drawing the sides level.
Ian Ryan’s free, Brian Scanlon’s ‘45’ and Eoghan O’Connor put them three points to the good with half-time beckoning but a lapse of concentration at the back gave Niall Mulligan the space to crash to Scanlon’s net at the second attempt and McGee gave the Midlanders the lead after intercepting the resulting kickout. Ryan replied from the next attack before McCormack’s point put Longford up 1-5 to 0-7 at the break.
Although Eoghan O’Connor equalised, it was Limerick’s only reward for early second-half possession and, once Longford saw it off, McCormack and McGee finished off breakaway attacks.
After exchanges between Buckley and McGee, Ryan was fouled going for goal, his shot was blocked by Damian Sheridan and the rebound bounced off a defender and the crossbar and over the bar.
The hosts hit back through David Barden and McCormack to go three ahead and held the gap after Paul Kelly answered Ian Corbett but Limerick found fresh legs in the subs bench and Johnny McCarthy, Corbett’s free and Mike Sheehan had them level at the end of normal time. Home hopes rose when McCormack pointed in injury time but Derry O’Connor with his first touch sent the game into extra time at 0-15 to 1-12.
Eoghan and Derry O’Connor put Limerick in front before McCormack responed with a free but, despite playing into the wind, Corbett and Ryan’s free gave the visitors a lead of 0-19 to 1-13 at the end of the first period.
Séamus O’Carroll widened it straight from the restart but Longford created two frees for McCormack before Declan Reilly and David Barden walked for second yellows. The numerical advantage gave Corbett the chance to point and, with Sheridan’s quick kickout plopping into his hands, Derry O’Connor rounded off a memorable debut by goaling with the last shot of the game.
SCORERS - Limerick: Ian Ryan 0-5 (three frees), Derry O’Connor 1-2, Eoghan O’Connor, Ian Corbett 0-3 each, Seanie Buckley 0-2, Stephen Kelly, Stephen Lucey, Brian Scanlon (‘45), Johnny McCarthy, Mike Sheehan, Séamus O’Carroll 0-1 each; Longford: Seán McCormack 0-8 (4 frees), Francis McGee 0-4, Niall Mulligan 1-0, Paul Barden 0-2, David Barden 0-1.
LIMERICK - Brian Scanlon; Andy Lane, Johnny McCarthy, Lorcan O’Dwyer; John Riordan, Stephen Lucey, Pa Ranahan; Jim Donovan, Seanie Buckley; Eoghan O’Connor, Stephen Kelly, Paudie Browne; James O’Meara, Séamus O’Carroll, Ian Ryan. SUBS: Mike Sheehan for Andy Lane (39 mins), Ian Corbett for Lorcan O’Dwyer (53 mins), Damien Quaid for Stephen Lucey (63 mins), Bobby O’Brien for Jim Donovan (65 mins), Derry O’Connor for Stephen Kelly (67 mins), Eoin Barry for James O’Meara (75 mins), Darragh Treacy for Séamus O’Carroll (87 mins).
LONGFORD - Damien Sheridan; Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran, Declan Reilly; Colm P Smyth, Mickey Quinn, Shane Mulligan; Barney McElvaney, John Keegan; Francis McGee, Paul Barden, Niall Mulligan; Donal McElligot, Brian Kavanagh, Seán McCormack. SUBS: David Barden for John Keegan (ht), Pádraig McCormack for Donal McElligot (ht), Peter Foy for Barney McElvaney (59 mins), Noel Farrell for Colm Smyth (69 mins), JJ Matthews for Brian Kavanagh (78 mins), Barney McElvaney for Niall Mulligan (83 mins).
REFEREE - Pádraig Hughes (Armagh).