Joint Louth U20 manager Christy Grimes. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Last Thursday evening’s game should be remembered for the fact it was a thrilling encounter; filled with superb fielding, high quality goals, plenty of impressive tackles and blocks plus a remarkable fightback from Louth who at one staged looked like they were heading for a drubbing.
Unfortunately the tie will live long in the memory for the wrong reasons, the final whistle somehow seemingly having three different scenarios playing out.
When Luke Matthews pointed a 45 at the death, the final whistle was greeted by jubilant scenes from the Louth camp who believed they had won it, the scoreboard in the venue had the two teams level, while the visitors were adamant they were in fact still leading by a point.
The mix up is believed to have played out due to referee Shay Farrelly awarding a Longford score in his notebook for the home side instead, thus leading to a situation where it is speculated he told Louth that the game was level and the point would win them the contest.
All in the press had Longford up by two at this stage, meaning that in the end the result went to the rightful team, but the confusion stopped the Wee County from possibly going for a goal to win the game in the dying moments instead of tapping over the 45.
Controversy aside, the game was won by an incredible start to proceedings from Longford, who hit 3-3 without reply in the first five minutes. The fact Louth came as close as they did in the end shows the spirit and determination in that young group of players.
It couldn’t have started any worse for the Men in Red, with the first attack of the game the visitors bagged a goal as a Jake Donnelly solo run teed up Keelin McGann who made no mistakes in blasting the ball past Joe Gordon in the Louth net.
Gordon’s first six kick outs were wayward, as Donal Ledwith’s charges effectively camped out in the Louth half of the field, keeping them off the ball for pretty much the entire first five minutes as the Wee County defenders struggled to get anywhere near their markers.
McGann had 1-2 inside the opening three minutes and this was quickly enhanced by two more goals from Euan Finneran and Daniel Reynolds.
Finneran finished off a fine team involving four other players, burying it home from close range having moved the Louth defence around at will, while Reynolds created his opportunity with a fine solo run down the left wing before linking up with Fionn Hourigan to bag his side’s third goal.
McGann duly brushed off another Louth challenge, slotting over his third of the day to open up what looked already to be a insurmountable 12 point lead.
Many sides would have thrown in towel, not willing to even attempt a comeback due to the severe amount of work it was going to take just to make the score line respectable, but the home team never held back and gave every last ounce of energy to get back into the game.
From here the space left by Louth for Longford began getting smaller, the tackles began drawing turnovers and crucially they finally got a foothold in the midfield battle which was front and centre to their attacking threat from here.
Seven minutes in they got themselves onto the scoreboard, influential midfielder Conal McCaul winning a free after some good build up involving five Louth players in a score which summed up their game plan.
After being starved of the ball, Louth did all they could to keep it for prolonged periods, happy to go through endless phases, bring the ball over and back from one sideline to another before then utilising the pacey runs from the likes of McCaul and Daire Nally when space opened up.
They managed to keep Longford off the scoresheet for over ten minutes, but due to the huge deficit were forced to prioritise goal chances over easily scorable points, Nally, McCaul and Jay Hughes all coming close to raising a green flag.
A point apiece from Glen Stewart and Eoghan McCormack, both got within 60 seconds of the water break left the visitors 3-4 to 0-2 up as they went back for words of wisdom from their respective management teams.
Louth came out and dominated this second quarter, outscoring the Midlanders by 1-6 to 0-3 to reignite their challenge, three turnovers in a row from Longford kickouts resulting in a rapid fire three points for Gabriel Bell, Carl Gillespie and McCaul.
A mix of patient build up play and quick, pacy attacks saw three more scores come from Gillespie and McCaul, as the home side started drawing fouls, but it was their last gasp goal that would worry Longford going into the dressing rooms at half time.
From deep in their own half, Louth played the ball up the field before a few quick passes eventually teed up Jay Hughes who blasted home a bullet to leave the gap at five points, 3-7 to 1-8.
Within five minutes of the restart, The Men in Red had pegged the gap back to just two points, a Gabriel Bell effort flew off the crossbar but Hughes was in the right place at the right time to palm the ball into the back of the net. Momentum was well and truly with Louth now.
Unlike in the first half, scores and space were a much scarcer commodity for the visitors, who were struggling to deal with a well drilled defence, one which was getting much closer to their markers and putting pressure onto them anytime they tried to shoot.
They finished the half with four wides, along with dropping another two short as their forwards struggled with the added aggression from the backs.
Yet Longford were doing just enough to keep their noses in front and bagged a vital fourth goal on 52 minutes at a stage where only a single point was separating the teams.
Donnelly’s effort was well saved by the outrushing Gordon, however the rebound fell into the path of substitute Jack Duggan who bagged his sides fourth goal, while a further two points from Duggan and Tadgh McNevin restored a six-point cushion with just four minutes of normal time remaining.
Having been 12 down earlier in the contest and worked their way back into the tie, Louth were never going to back down, their captain leading by example with a point from range on 58 minutes.
Early into injury time, the Wee County struck back in style with another goal, Gabriel Bell creating some space before quite remarkably firing home a rocket from 25 meters into the back of the net to leave just two points between the teams.
After some great build up play Nally would miss the target with an attempt in front of the goals, but McCaul rose highest to intercept the kick out, setting up Gillespie for a chance which came close too but was deflected out for a 45 deep into injury time.
And thus came the confusion, the scoreboard saying they were a point down, the referee saying they were level leading to substitute Luke Matthews bisecting the posts with a super 45.
Unfortunately, despite their celebrations the referee rightly amended his score, resulting in Louth exiting the Leinster Championship by the narrowest of margins.
A sad and unjust way to end to their campaign, but one which they can be extremely proud of having played out of their skin for so much of contest.
LOUTH: Joe Gordon; Gerry Browne, Glen Stewart (0-1), David Lally; James McDonnell, Ciaran Murphy, Gabriel Bell (1-1); Sean Healy, Conal McCaul (0-3, 0-2 frees); Jonathan Commins, Daire Nally, Ben Collier; Michael Begley, Jay Hughes (2-3), Garl Gillespie (0-4, 0-2 frees). Subs: Tom Jackson for D Lally (17); Luke Matthews (0-1 45) for Commins (46).
LONGFORD: Ollie Duffy; Jakub Kajan, Darren Moffett, James Kiernan; Jake Donnelly, James Moran, Fionn Hourican (0-1); Michael Kajan, Tadhg McNevin (0-1); Darragh O’Connell, Jordan Martin, Euan Finneran (1-0); Keelin McGann (1-5), Eoghan McCormack (0-1). Daniel Reynolds (1-3, two frees). Subs: Conor Leonard for J Martin (HT); Jack Duggan (1-0) for E McCormack (49 mins).
Referee: Shay Farrelly (Dublin).
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