Qualifier specialists Sligo overcame a battling Longford side to keep alive their interest in this year’s All-Ireland championship.
Four points each from midfielders Eamon O’Hara, Sean Davey and five from Mark Breheny sparked an impressive second-half comeback from the home side who were just too strong for Luke Dempsey’s men.
The game got off to a pulsating start with Sligo ‘keeper Phillip Green forced into an early save. Sligo responded with captain O’Hara making one of his trademark bursts through the centre and firing the opening score.
Longford’s replied with O’Hara’s opposite number, Liam Keenan, shooting over from 30 yards. Sligo’s Johnny Martyn was operating from full-back instead of his customary centre-back slot and he made a crucial interception to prevent Longford creating another goal chance but the Midlanders did manage to get in-front a minute later as Longford captain Paul Bardon landed a long-range free with the wind.
Longford took the ascendancy after this, anxious to atone for a poor display against Dublin. Longford put two between the teams thanks to a Jamesie Martin free. Sligo made three changes to the forward line had largely mis-fired against Leitrim in the Connacht Championship and two of the players introduced, Dessie Sloyan and Dara McGarty, were to get their next two points. These scores sandwiched a second pointed free from Bardon that kept Longford ahead.
This lead lasted until the 20th minute as O’Hara leveled the sides with his second of the day. Points from Longford’s Paddy Dowd and Kevin Mulligan and Sligo’s corner-back Brendan Phillips and full-forward Breheny, kept the sides level at six points a-piece by the 29th minute.
As the game intensified, referee Jimmy White booked both Sligo’s John McPartland and Longford’s Enda Ledwith for an off-the-ball incident. Longford continued to look dangerous and Trevor Smullen ensured that their entire half-forward line got on the scoresheet when he pointed on the half-hour.
Midway through the half, Bardon was denied a goal by another fine save from Green but the Longford captain was controlling proceedings in the centre of the park and hit two points from play, one off each foot to round-off his team’s scoring for the half.
Sligo’s sole response was another Breheny free on the stroke of half-time, leaving the visitors 9-7 ahead at the break.
Having obtained the wind advantage, Sligo reduced the gap to the minimum just seconds after half-time through Sean Davey. Bardon quickly picked-up where he left off however, and he fed Martin, who landed his second point of the day.
Bardon regained the three-point lead for Longford soon after a long run by Dowd and this lead became four when Brian Kavanagh pointed a free after Jonathon Davey had been harshly penalised.
O’Hara and Dermot McTernan narrowed the gap to two as Sligo but Breheny hit two wides in quick succession as Kavanagh hit his second and third points for Longford and his team began to grow in confidence.
O’Hara hit his fourth point from play on 53 minutes, a wonderful effort off his left foot, and his midfield partner, Sean Davey also pointed soon after with a huge effort at the right-hand touchline.
Sligo took the lead for the first time since the opening score, through points from substitute Gerry McGowan and a scores from Davey and Breheny over the next five minutes.
Longford leveled through another Kavanagh free but Breheny hit another brace on 67 and 69 minutes to keep the home side ahead as four minutes additional time was indicated.
It wasn’t enough for Longford however and Sean Davey added an 18th Sligo point to seal the two-point win.
Sligo: P Green; P Naughton, N McGuire, B Phillips (0-1); P Doohan, J Martyn, J Davey; S Davey (0-4, 1f), E O’Hara (C) (0-4); B Egan, J McPartland, D McGarty (0-1); D Sloyan (0-1), M Breheny (0-5, 2f), D McTernan (0-1).
Subs used: K Sweeney for McPartland (43), G McGowan (0-1) for McTernan (51), B Curran for Egan (52), M Munds for Sloyan.
Booked: McPartland (17), Sloyan (65), Breheny (68), McGowan (70).
Longford: D Sheridan; D Brady, D Corcoran, E Ledwith; A O’Connor, C Conefrey, D Reilly; P Bardon (C) (0-5, 2f), L Keenan (0-1); T Smullen (0-1), K Mulligan (0-1), P Dowd (0-1); J Martin (0-2, 1f), B Kavanagh (0-5, 4f), P Davis.
Subs used: N Sheridan for Davis (48), K Smith for K Mulligan (55), B McElvaney for Martin (60), S Mulligan for Dowd (64).
Booked: Ledwith (17), Kavanagh (66).
Referee: J White (Donegal