Category: Archive

Westmeath top Longford in low key championship opener

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Last Sunday, Longford and Westmeath began the football process, but there was no drum roll at Pearse Park, no feeling that this game heralded something special, and something quintessentially Irish.
No offense to Longford or Westmeath, who had nothing to do with the scheduling of the Leinster Championship. However, the likes of the Donegal and Derry clash in the Ulster Championship in a couple of weeks time, and Galway and Roscommon who take center stage this Sunday are both mouth-watering contests which would have been fitting openers for the summer odyssey.
Instead, Pearse Park witnessed a match pretty devoid of passion and quality, and that was only the view of the two coaches, Luke Dempsey and Tomas O Flaharta. In fact, Dempsey was down in the dumps on a couple of fronts after Longford left their comeback way too late.
“Disappointed, especially that the game never really got going,” said Dempsey. “Westmeath have gone quite Ulster-like in their style of play, and it was as if our players were stymied. The second half was an awful lot of stop-start and poor football.
“But our problem now is that we have to wait until the nineteenth of July for the qualifiers which is a ridiculous sort of championship. The danger is that lads will be poached by American clubs which is something I totally disagree with because is not only takes away from the county team, it also hits the clubs. It’s going to be hard to pick things up, but we’ll give it a shot.”
Trailing by 2-9 to 0-7 after 62 minutes, Longford gave some indication of their worth with a revival which took them close to earning a replay. In the final 10 minutes, they hit a nervy Westmeath for 1-3 without reply and reduced the margin to just two points before Fergal Wilson had the final say for the winners with a free from 45 meters.
“We made every mistake in the book at times, but thankfully we held out in the end,” said O Flaharta. “Our performance wasn’t as good as in the league, and we know we have an amount of things to improve on as we prepare for the Offaly game. They’ll be waiting in the long grass for us down in Tullamore next month.”
With Dermot Bannon forced out with a stomach bug, Dessie Dolan was drafted into the line-up, and although Westmeath’s star forward was clearly not match fit following a hamstring injury, he did enough along with the highly impressive Denis Glennon to trouble the Longford defense.
Glennon won a penalty as early as the sixth minute when he was fouled by goalkeeper, Damien Sheridan, and Alan Mangan converted. As the Westmeath defense effectively stifled the threat of Brian Kavanagh, they moved further in front when Glennon soloed through a number of challenges to poke the ball past Sheridan.
Dempsey, meanwhile, wasn’t best pleased as he thought Glennon had over-carried the ball. “It was controversial, he seemed to run an awful long way along the sideline, and it was a soft goal to concede.”
That made it 2-4 to 0-5 at the break, and with his team’s hopes fading fast, Dempsey shuffled Longford’s forward line, and the changes soon brought some reward as Paul Barden, Paddy Dowd and Kavanagh made inroads. Barden struck for a goal in the 65th minute following as assist by Noel Farrell, but the losers had left it too late.
“I’m proud of my players,” added Dempsey. “We have a small pick, they stuck with it and came back at the end.” As Westmeath make plans to take on Offaly in the Leinster quarter-final, Longford will have to stick with it over the next two months before the qualifiers begin.
As for the bigger picture in football, it’s hard to look beyond Kerry at the moment. Whether the prospect of three All Ireland titles in a row will act as pressure point or an incentive is not yet clear, the Kingdom clearly have the class and the durability to defend their crown.
Cork should be on hand to renew hostilities in the Munster decider, and while they’ll be determined to make up for last year’s crushing final defeat, Kerry once again look to have that decisive edge. With an attack led by the brilliance of Colm Cooper and the perception of Kieran Donaghy, allied to the evergreen Darragh O Se, in midfield, the holders will once again be formidable opposition.
In Ulster, Derry look to hold most of the cards at this stage following their League success, however, they meet Donegal at the first hurdle, and as has been demonstrated time and time again, the passage out of Ulster is invariably fraught.
Monaghan and Fermanagh could also have parts to play in the destiny of silverware, and then there’s the twin threat of Tyrone and Armagh, so all that can be said with certainty now is that Ulster will be far the most competitive province.
Galway and Mayo will battle for supremacy in Connacht, while Dublin look to be the best bets in Leinster. The latter’s continuing quest for an All Ireland title is unlikely to end this summer, however, as Kerry have designs on keeping the Sam Maguire in the Kingdom.

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