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Offaly have the beating of Longford in Leinster Championship opener

Offaly manager Pat Flanagan can guide the county to their first Leinster win since 2007 Picture by Declan Roughan
By Padraig Kelly

Leinster Senior Football Championship round one: Offaly v Longford (tomorrow, O’Connor Park, 3.30pm)

LONGFORD’S home record this season has perhaps managed to rub salt into their own wounds.

Seven times they have ran onto the Pearse Park pitch and on six of those occasions they have left with victory secured, Kildare being the exception.

Home advantage would have been crucial ammunition in what is expected to be a very tight Leinster opener against Offaly on Sunday but it’s a bullet they can no longer load into the gun.

That’s because Pearse Park, currently undergoing construction work, has been deemed unsuitable for the game and Offaly now can boast home advantage instead.

Travelling to Tullamore didn’t hamper Longford twelve months ago though as they produced one of the comebacks of the Championship.

They trailed by seven points with 25 minutes to go but out-scored the home side 0-11 to 0-1 from there on in.

That set up a quarter-final clash with Dublin but a humiliating 27-point loss maybe made it seem like that comeback wasn’t such a good idea after all. After wins over Clare and Carlow in the Qualifiers, Kildare handed them another drubbing, this time by 19 points.

Those losses brought an end to Jack Sheedy’s reign and Denis Connerton has come in to try and revive fortunes after those two heavy defeats,

He has done a good job too, brining the side to the O’Byrne Cup final in January while only scoring difference prevented them from moving into Division Two.

Momentum was badly lost though when Connerton was said to be considering his position last month in a disagreement over scheduled club fixtures.

"Our preparation has been made seriously difficult due to the fixing of league games involving county players on the following dates: March 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th, April 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th, 19th, 23rd, 26th, 29th and May 1st,” a statement from the management had read at the time.

That particular crisis was averted and the management team remains in place for Sunday. The question is whether it will have had an impact on the players’ mindsets or not.

Brian Kavanagh was still their star turn during the League, top-scoring in five of their seven matches and ending with 30 points in all.

Last year it was their defence under the spotlight, but this season it’s an over-reliance on Kavanagh that is up for debate.

The player has converted nearly a third of their scores, but will require assistance from Barry McKeon and Robbie Smyth, who are well capable of making an impact.

Offaly are perennial slow starters in Leinster. In what is a horrible run, the side have lost their last eight provincial matches, ensuring that they have been in round one of the Qualifiers every season since their Leinster win over Carlow in 2007,

As well as throwing away a seven-point lead last year, the side also lost by four to Longford in 2014.

There’s a real sense, however, that they can end their long wait for a Leinster win tomorrow.

After securing the Division Four title last year by hammering Longford in the final, they have pushed on and like tomorrow’s opponents, just missed out on back-to-back promotions as a result of scoring difference.

Goalkeeper and team captain Alan Mulhall was this week pointing out that there are no floating players on the panel this year, everyone is capable of standing up to the task at hand.

That certainly looked the case in the League as they had 19 scorers over the course of their seven games.

Niall McNamee remains the old dog for the hard road as he was the only player to score in every match – six of those either two- or three-point hauls.

Nigel Dunne (0-14) and Bernard Allen (0-12) also had positive campaigns in attack.

One man not included in those 19 scorers is Shane Dooley, who could be amongst the substitutes in Tullamore.

Dooley, more noted for his hurling exploits with the Faithful county, was fleetingly involved with the senior footballers in 2013 and has returned to a dual role this year.

His return may just coincide with Offaly ending their Leinster losing streak. They should have too much here for Longford.

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