Longford have dumped Derry out of the All-Ireland SFC race with a thrilling 1-16 to 2-12 win in the Pearse Park sunshine.
Paul Barden was the Midlanders’ hero as he right-footed an injury-time free over from 45 metres out.
Derry talisman Paddy Bradley bagged two goals in the first half – his first saw him rattle the Longford net after barely 60 seconds – as the visitors led 2-06 to 1-08 at the interval.
Trevor Smullen netted for Longford in reply, with Bradley’s second coming from an injury-time penalty.
Derry pushed three points clear in the second half but the Barden brothers, Paul and David, and Brian Kavanagh shone in Longford’s crafty comeback.
Luke Dempsey’s side eked out their third and most impressive qualifier win with the manager’s gut feeling that home advantage would be crucial proving correct.
Gaining momentum with each passing game, Longford have now averaged 1-18 in their last three outings and they will be a tough nut for any side to crack in the fourth round of the qualifiers.
A bumper crowd delayed proceedings by ten minutes but when this encounter – the second qualifier clash between the counties since 2002 – got underway, it immediately burst into life.
It was electric stuff as Paddy Dowd pointed the hosts in front after only 20 seconds. A defensive error then allowed Bradley to reply with his first goal with barely a minute on the clock.
Kavanagh tagged on two frees to level the game before David Barden played in Smullen for a brilliant goal finish past Barry Gillis in the tenth minute.
Longford tails were up but Derry knuckled down and some excellent work from their forwards saw Jim Kelly on target, reducing the gap to 1-04 to 1-03.
The sides swapped the next four points with Bradley increasing his influence. Longford managed to go three clear just before the interval, with two points from the on-fire Kavanagh.
Still, Bradley drew what looked a dubious penalty award in stoppage time and he converted it himself, amid a chorus of boos, to see Derry go in at the break with a one-point buffer.
The Derry defence benefited from the presence of 1998 All-Star Sean Marty Lockhart for the second half – his recovery from a hamstring injury being complete – and points from Kelly and Bradley, who showed exquisite timing to score when off-balance, handed the visitors a three-point lead.
Longford’s mettle was really being tested, but willed on by a vocal crowd, they never wilted and hit the next four points through Paul Barden, Kavanagh (0-02 (1f)) and wing-back Shane Mulligan to suddenly move ahead.
Bradley added two excellent points before David Barden, after some neat inter-play with Kavanagh, missed a certain goal with Gillis clearly beaten.
Derry still led by 2-11 to 1-12 going into the final minutes – Joe Diver pointed – but scores from tireless midfielder Bernie McElvaney, Kavanagh and Barden saw the home side go back in front.
Bradley levelled it again, taking his tally to 2-07, as extra-time seemed an inevitability but Barden stepped up with a superb free to dramatically end Derry’s summer run.
Longford: D Sheridan (capt); D Brady, N Farrell, C Conefrey; S Mulligan, D Masterson, D Reilly; B McElvaney, L Keenan; T Smullen, P Barden, P Berry; D Barden, P Dowd, B Kavanagh.
Derry: B Gillis; K McGuckin, K McCloy, F McEldowney; P Cartin, M Lynch, L Hinphey; J McBride (capt), F Doherty; J Diver, J Kelly, G Donaghy; C Mullan, P Bradley, E Bradley.
Referee: Michael Collins (Cork)