By Mark Jones
LONGFORD 0-16, WEXFORD 2-7 Much has been written and talked about the haves and have nots of championship football, but one of the Cinderella counties has finally made it to the ball. Eight long seasons without a win in the Leinster championship ended for Longford when they beat Wexford in last Sunday’s preliminary round replay at Pearse Park.
It might have been a minor blip on the bigger GAA landscape, yet the Longford supporters celebrated as if they had won the All-Ireland itself. The noisy hordes must have found it hard to believe that just like in the drawn game, Wexford once again squandered a massive lead.
This time they were seven points to the good at halftime and yet somehow Longford were allowed to score a remarkable total of 11 points without reply in the second half as Wexford self-destructed in spectacular fashion.
A bizarre second period also saw three players sent off – Wexford’s Ciaran Roche and John Harrington, as well as Longford substitute David Blessington got their marching orders – but the contest will be remembered above everything for Longford’s sensational comeback.
There was neither sign nor light of the fireworks to come during the first half as the eventual winners gave away two goals in the space of four minutes. Bad defending gave Scott Doran the opportunity to shoot the first and then Michael Mahon struck from point-blank range.
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By the interval it was 2-6 to 0-5 in Wexford’s favor and the Longford forward line had been conspicuous by its absence. However, there was some feverish activity in the dressing room as manager Michael McCormack made wholesale changes in a desperate effort to rescue the situation.
After Roche’s sending off for second bookable offense, Longford suddenly began to tick. Both Padraic Davis and veteran Dessie Barry came more into the game as the Wexford midfield disintegrated. During a purple spell, it seemed as if Davis couldn’t miss and his final total of eight points included only two frees.
Davis eventually brought the teams level in the 60th minute and further points from Pat Farrell, Davis again, Peter Lynch and Trevor Smullen rubbed salt in Wexford’s wounds, and by then Longford’s thoughts were already turning to Sunday’s home game against Westmeath.
TIPPERARY 1-13, LIMERICK 1-12 Favorites Tipperary almost blew a place in the quarterfinal of the Munster football championship when they scraped past Limerick by the narrowest of margins at the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday.
Four points up at halftime and seven points clear with just 8 minutes left, Tipp managed to stumble to victory in the end. A deafening silence in the winners’ dressing room, punctuated only by a dry assessment of the proceedings from manager Colm Browne, spoke volumes for an anti-climatic result.
“Another poor performance like that and we won’t beat Waterford,” Browne said. Limerick were able to plunder 1-3 in the closing minutes and the Pat Galvin’s 45 at the death was a coat of paint away from the goal that would sent Tipperary packing.
Despite Tipp’s general shortcomings, there were periods when they showed flashes of the form which could take them all the way to a Munster final. In Declan Browne they have a potent marksman and even though his colleagues failed to provide him with adequate possession, Browne still scored an excellent 1-6.
At the end of the first half, there were scant signs that Tipperary would ever find themselves in a difficult situation. Brendan Cummins had created an early goal for Browne and both Derry Foley and John Costello were in command at midfield.
They led by 1-8 to 0-7 at the break, but Limerick came out in determined mood and even when they had Nicky Kelly sent off for a second bookable offense, Michael Reidy reduced the gap to two points with a well placed penalty.
Tipp should still get the better of Waterford in the next round, but they need to improve substantially if Clare, never mind Cork or Kerry, are to be troubled in the battle to get out of Munster.
KERRY 2-8, LAOIS 0-11 Despite being outplayed for long periods, Kerry captured their third All Ireland Under 21 football title in four years when they managed to keep Laois at bay during last weekend’s final at the Gaelic Grounds.
While Kerry rightly lauded their defense for this latest victory, Laois are still asking how the county’s best crop of underage players for many years contrived to kick away a golden opportunity.
Brian Scanlon and Eamonn Fitzmaurice both had first-half goals for the winners, but while Laois responded after the break with four unanswered scores to reduce the gap to a single point, they were ultimately let down by seven wides.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the talented Laois youngsters, but 11 of the side will be available again next year. As for Kerry, the excellent defense of fullback Tom O’Sullivan, allied to the occasional flash of inspiration from Michael Francis Russell proved enough to see them through.
HURLING Carlow clinched Division 2A of the National Hurling League with an easy 5-25 to 0-8 win over Armagh. Carlow now go on to meet Westmeath in the divisional semifinal, while Armagh are relegated to Div. 3. Meanwhile, Kerry, who meet Waterford in the Munster championship, defeated Derry by 2-16 to 1-13.
Kerry will take on Down in their semifinal after the Ulster county trounced Kildare by 4-17 to 0-5 in Divsion 2B. Elsewhwere, London were comfortable 2-16 to 1-4 winners over Tyrone, and Cavan boosted their Div. 3 promotion hopes with a 1-15 to 1-3 success against Fermanagh.