The light was fading as Westmeath finally prevailed at the end of a marathon local derby at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park this evening, setting up another clash with neighbours Offaly this time next week in the semi-finals of the Leinster U-20 football championship.
Oddly, for a game that was incredibly even throughout, both sides had periods of dominance that came in waves.
After a comparatively even battle in the opening minutes, with Westmeath leading by the odd point in seven as the clock ticked down to the first half water break, Longford full forward Jack Duggan made the game's first big breakthrough when he rifled the ball to the Westmeath net to make it 1-03 to 0-04.
Longford followed up with another goal, James Moran driving forward from the back line to rattle the net from 12 metres out, but Westmeath promptly took control of the tie here, with Brandon Kelly leading their attack.
The Milltownpass player, who came off the bench in their 2020 Leinster senior championship clash with Dublin last November, was in scintillating form here, showing sharpness and accuracy on the ball and putting himself in the right place to get a touch on Devin Hill’s long delivery that dropped on the edged of the square, making it 2-03 to 1-05 at half time.
Senan Baker was introduced at half time and the son of Clare hurler Ollie Baker couldn’t have dreamed of a better impact as he took possession on the right wing, scythed through the Longford defence and picked out the top corner of the net inside the first minute of the second half.
Westmeath kick on to push their lead out to four points, but inexplicably, they suddenly lost their way in the middle third and Longford started to dominate the battle for possession over the last twenty minutes.
A goal from Daniel Reynolds drew the home side level going into the last ten minutes but while Longford continued to monopolise possession, a series of missed frees and missed passes close to goal meant they struggled to make it count on the scoreboard.
Brandon Kelly’s fifth point looked like it might snatch the win, but with the very last play, Jack Duggan claimed a mark 25 metres from the Westmeath goal and held his nerve under immense pressure.
Longford started better in extra time with two early scores but had another half goal chance that didn’t quite fall right for them, while Westmeath’s greater use of the bench also seemed to be a factor.
Jordan McDonnell performed heroics for the Lake County, scoring two sublime points from play and nailing another pressure free, and again it fell to Duggan to fire over a placed ball at the end to send the contest to penalties, where Westmeath finally advanced on the second round of sudden death.
Westmeath: Seán Martin; Josh Gahan, Charlie Drumm, Ciarán Daly; Enda Gaffney (0-01), Darragh Seery, Michael Byrne; Jack Murtagh, Ciarán Daly; Shane Fleming, Brandon Kelly (1-05), Kevin O’Sullivan (0-01); Jack Torpey, Ben McGauran (0-01, 1f), Devin Hill.
Subs: Senan Baker (1-00) for Fleming (H-T), Liam Moran (0-01) for Byrne (46), Stephen O’Connor for McGauran (46), Jordan McDonnell (0-03, 1f) for Torpey (52), Kehn Ruzzell for Seery (59), Ronan Hanley for Ciaran Daly (H-T, E-T), Jack Torpey for Hill (71).
Longford: Ollie Duffy; Jakub Kajan, Darren Moffett, James Kiernan; Jake Donnelly (0-01), James Moran (1-00), Fionn Hourican; Michael Kajan, Tadhg McNevin; Darragh O’Connell, Euan Finneran, Keelin McGann (0-01); Eoghan McCormack (0-01), Jack Duggan (1-06, 3f, 1m), Daniel Reynolds (1-00).
Subs: Oisín O’Toole for F Hourican (38), Conor Leonard for M Kajan (39), Sean O’Sullivan for O’Connell (70), Cian Dooner for Reynolds (71), Micheál Hynes for Donnelly (79)
Referee: David Hickey (Carlow)