On the day the clocks went forward in 2018, Longford footballers had progression very much on their minds.

They hosted Fermanagh in the final round of games in Divsion 3, and knew that a draw would be enough to send them up to the next tier. Entering the last few minutes, the midlanders looked on course to achieve that and felt they should have been awarded a free to put them three clear.

Fermanagh would eventually gain parity and then a disputed free from Seamus Quigley in the final minute of stoppage time saw them dramatically claim the win they needed to gain promotion.

The fact that Quigley took the kick yards away from where it was awarded only added to Longford's frustration, as both players and supporters vented their anger at the referee.

That setback, however, would not ultimately define the midlanders' year. In the championship, they beat Meath and then were far from disgraced against the Dubs. The summer ended with a narrow defeat to Kildare in the qualifiers.

Come the autumn, the footballers of Mullinalaghta were making waves again as they defended their Longford title.

The journey would not stop there. On 9 December, they made their own history when winning a maiden Leinster crown. Onwards then to an All-Ireland semi-final with Dr Crokes on 16 February. 

By then, the county side will have played Louth, Offaly and Carlow in this year's third-tier campaign. New manager Pádraic Davis will not have the Mullinalaghta players available to him and, if the half-parish go all the way to the St Patrick's Day final, it's most unlikely that any of those eight players will see county action this spring.

To have captain Donal McElligott, John Keegan, Rian Brady, Gary Rogers, Jayson Matthews, Paddy Fox and James and David McGivney all unavailable is very part of the double-edged sword that comes with club success in a county where the pick is not huge.

It's no wonder that manager Davis is calling for the club championship to be run off in the one calendar year. 

So what's the view from Longford ahead of this weekend's league start.

"We nearly got promotion last season, but I think you'll be looking at the other end of the scale this year," Longford Leader journalist Padraig O'Brien told RTÉ Sport. 

"Padraic Davis' main task will be to consolidate our position in Division 3.

"If we were at full strength I'd expect us to get promoted. We must deal with the hand we are dealt. 

"Best of luck to Mullinalaghta, but we're down eight players and Longford simply can't afford to be without that many players."

And then you have others who are not available. 

"Pádraig McCormack and Conor Berry are both out injured. Dessie Reynolds is exam-tied and Barry Gilleran has retired.

"To be short a dozen or so players is tough."

Longford's last competitive game was a 12-point loss to Westmeath in the O'Byrne Cup. They did not score from play in that game. 

They face the Lake County, now managed by Jack Cooney, again in their final league game on 24 March. 

Westmeath, after landing silverware in the shape of the O'Byrne are generally seen as third favourites behind Laois and Down to gain promotion. The O'Moore County had a solid 2018 from their low base in Division 4.

Paddy Tally's stewardship of Down will be keenly watched; he does leave his mark wherever he goes. 

Carlow, for the first time since the mid 90s, will be playing league football outside of Division 4. They will not want to make an immediate return. 

And then there's Offaly and talk about players not wanting to go with the Faithful cause. Big job ahead for John Maughan on his return to inter-county management.

Sligo and Louth complete the octet. The latter made the drop from tier two last year in what was a year to forget. They'll need a good start.

As for the Yeats County, they have yet to make a decent fist at getting out of the section since 2012. 

DIVISION 3 - TEAM GUIDE

CARLOW

Last year’s finish: Promoted from Division 4

Manager: Turlough O’Brien

Player to watch: Paul Broderick – An All Star nominee from last year as Carlow had their best year for many a year.

FIXTURES

27 January: Carlow v Sligo
2 February: Westmeath v Carlow
10 February: Carlow v Longford
24 February: Offaly v Carlow
2 March: Carlow v Louth
16 March: Carlow v Down
24 March: Laois v Carlow

DOWN

Last year’s finish: Relegated from Division 2

Manager: Paddy Tally

Player to watch: Rory Mason – Son of All-Ireland winner Brendan, we are told he is one to keep an eye on.

FIXTURES

26 January: Down v Laois
3 February: Sligo v Down
9 February: Down v Westmeath
24 February: Longford v Down
2 March: Down v Offaly
16 March: Carlow v Down
24 March: Down v Louth

LAOIS

Last year’s finish: Promoted as Division 4 champions

Manager: John Sugrue

Player to watch: Mark Barry – There is a lot of talk about this youngster in the O’Moore County, He is part of Sugrue’s squad but is eligible to play at U20 level for two more years.

FIXTURES

26 January: Down v Laois
2 February: Laois v Louth
10 February: Laois v Sligo
24 February: Westmeath v Laois
2 March: Laois v Longford
16 March: Offaly v Laois
24 March: Laois v Carlow

LONGFORD

Last year’s finish: Third P7 W4 D1 L2

Manager: Padraic Davis

Player to watch:  Robbie Smyth – One of the Longford’s more experienced players has shown his intent for the year by notching up a good scoring return in the O’Byrne Cup.

FIXTURES

26 January: Louth v Longford
3 February: Longford v Offaly
10 February: Carlow v Longford
24 February: Longford v Down
2 March: Laois v Longford
16 March: Longford v Sligo
24 March: Westmeath v Longford

WESTMEATH

Last year’s finish: P7 W4 L3

Manager: Jack Cooney

Player to watch: Ger Egan – The Westmeath attacker’s accuracy from placed ball will be crucial as trhe midlanders eye a promotion push.

FIXTURES

27 January: Offaly v Westmeath
2 February: Westmeath v Carlow
9 February: Down v Westmeath
24 February: Westmeath v Laois
2 March: Sligo v Westmeath
16 March: Louth v Westmeath
24 March: Westmeath v Longford

SLIGO

Last year’s finish: Fifth P7 W2 D2 L3

Manager: Paul Taylor

Player to watch: Niall Murphy - Looks as he will carry Sligo’s greatest scoring threat in 2019.

FIXTURES

27 January: Carlow v Sligo
3 February: Sligo v Down
10 February: Laois v Sligo
24 February: Louth v Sligo
3 March: Sligo v Westmeath
16 March: Longford v Sligo
24 March: Sligo v Offaly

OFFALY

Last year’s finish: Sixth P7 W2 D1 L4

Manager: John Maughan

Player to watch:  Shane Horan – After a number of players turned their back on the Faithful for the season ahead, Horan’s inter-county transfer from Kilmacud Crokes to Offaly is some good news for Maughan.

FIXTURES

27 January: Offaly v Westmeath
3 February: Longford v Offaly
10 February: Offaly v Louth
24 February: Offaly v Carlow
2 March: Down v Offaly
16 March: Offaly v Laois
24 March: Sligo v Offaly

LOUTH

Last year’s finish: Relegated from Division 2

Manager:  Wayne Kierans

Player to watch: Ciarán Byrne - The return of a former Louth prodigy from an Aussie Rules career with Carlton will be closely watched. 

FIXTURES

27 January: Louth v Longford
2 February: Laois v Louth
10 February: Offaly v Louth
24 February: Louth v Sligo
2 March: Carlow v Louth
16 March: Louth v Westmeath
24 March: Down v Louth

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