By Eoin Brennan at Cusack Park
Longford 2-12 Clare 1-12
Despite being reduced to 14 men in the final quarter, it was Longford who finished the stronger to snatch a famous All-Ireland SFC qualifier away win against Clare at Cusack Park.
With the game in the balance, wing-back Diarmuid Masterson stepped up to edge the Leinster side ahead in the 56th minute only to receive a second yellow card in the next passage of play following a high challenge on Gordon Kelly.
However, Clare failed to take advantage and it was Brian Kavanagh who kicked the last three points to steer Longford into the last 16.
Overall, the visitors were by far the more accurate side, with only one first-half wide as opposed nine for their wind-assisted hosts.
It allowed Longford to establish an early foothold in the match, led by Kavanagh, who added to his opening free with an unstoppable sixth-minute penalty past goalkeeper Joe Hayes to push Longford 1-01 to 0-02 clear.
Gathering momentum, Jack Sheedy’s side would extend that advantage to four by the end of the opening quarter, while also surviving a bizarre goal threat when a Gary Brennan 40-metre free took a wicked defection off a defender, only for goalkeeper Paddy Collum to somehow scramble it clear.
Clare finally got to grips with their opponents though, with some eye-catching points through captain Gary Brennan and the returning David Tubridy steadying the ship before an excellent back-to-front 26th minute passing move was finished to the net by wing-back Dean Ryan to edge the Banner ahead by 1-05 to 1-04.
The home side would maintain that lead until half-time at 1-07 to 1-06 but were quickly on the backfoot once more when the action resumed after Rory Connor equalised and Dessie Reynolds bettered it almost immediately with an inch-perfect lob to push Longford 2-07 to 1-07 clear.
It was a sucker-punch that Clare struggled to recover from as successive goal efforts from Pat Burke and Keelan Sexton were both denied.
They did have better luck over Collum’s crossbar as three Tubridy frees finally gained parity for the Banner by the 55th minute.
However, crucially Longford never allowed their hosts to take the lead, especially after Masterson was dismissed in the 57th minute.
With the home side desperately searching for scores, Longford held their nerve and with Kavanagh unerring from placed balls, they would grab the last three points to book their place in the third round of the qualifiers.
Longford: P Collum; B O’Farrell, C Farrelly, F Battrim; C Smyth, B Gilleran, D Masterson (0-01); K Diffley, M Quinn (0-01); P Gill, D Reynolds (1-01), R McEntire; R Connor (0-02), B Kavanagh (1-05, 1-00 Pen, 0-04f), L Connerton (0-02)
Subs: S Doyle for Gill (47), R McInerney for McEntire (60), P Foy for Connor (65)
Clare: J Hayes; C Russell, K Harnett, M McMahon; S Hickey, G Kelly, D Ryan (1-01); G Brennan (0-02, 0-01f), C O’Connor; S Collins (0-01), J Malone, K Sexton; E Cleary (0-02, 0-01f), D Tubridy (0-05, 0-03f), P Burke (0-01)
Subs: S McGrath for O’Connor (18, inj), E Coughlan for Cleary (53), S Collins for Kelly (59, inj)
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)