Longford Performance XV come up just short vs Tullow   27/11/2017

26/11/2017 Leinster League Division 1B Tullow 23 Longford 22

by Michael Connellan

Longford left Black Gate with just one point, but had fate not twisted on a couple of occasions this could have been a clean sweep. To have run the table toppers so close in the home patch shows that this Longford side are serious contenders, but they have to temper that observation with the fact that they now rank fourth in the table, seven points behind Tullow.

Longford's journey to Tullow, the home of the 2016-2017 Provincial Town Champions and present leaders of Leinster League 1B on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon, was always going to be a tough ask. Longford knew they could ill afford to be off the boil and had to front up to Tullow’s attempt to bully the visiting pack in the early exchanges.

Tullow haven’t played the young, fit and determined Longford, which is sprinkled with a number of experienced players, in the past two season and in some way didn’t know what to expect from the “surprise package”.

Longford players played to the usual high tempo and exposed the Tullow defence in the early

exchanges with the deft hands of Danny McHugh, Shane Rogers and Cormac Hughes. An overlap was exposed by Shane Rogers and Cormac Hughes by carrying the ball in two hands and inviting Liam O’Hallahan to collect the pass. The fullback outsprint the defenders to score under the post, duly converted by Joe McGowan.

Tullow didn’t take too kindly to the early try and the backline, which boasted two South Sea islanders, put significant pressure on the visitors. Four consecutive penalties elicited a warning from the the ref and one the fourth Longford’s flanker Derek Farrell “took one for the team” when he was randomly picked out by and issued with a yellow card.

Tullow took full advantage or the extra player. They immediately scored a simple try exploiting the space out wide. The Carlow men then collected the Longford restart at pace. The power and speed of their Number 8 smashed the Longford defence and when he was eventually hauled to the floor he popped to the supporting centre to score under the post.

With Longford down to 14 men the anti was upped and the visitors had to fight tenaciously to avoid conceding any further scores. Derek Farrell's return was the start of a resurgence. They started to ask questions of the Tullow Defence and despite a number of high tackles, none more so that a late and high tackle on Ronan Keith while collecting the ball in the air, Longford’s Joe McGowan slotted an easy penalty to leave the scores 14-10 to Tullow at half time.

To the dismay of the travelling supporters Longford were awarded just two penalties in the first 40. Tthe men from the Black Gate continued to get the benefit of the ref's calls in the second half and an early call after the restart allowed them extend the lead to 17-10. Two further penalties brough the home side's tally to 23 with Longford stalled on 10 as the game entered the final quarter.

Longford could have buried the heads and had their “bellies tickled”, but this is not their style. The tempo was upped and the skill levels came to the fore. A well oiled-and-earned try by Longford loose head, Mick Bannon, was the first reward. Longford pummelled the Tullow line and Bannon smashed over for a five pointer ably converted by Joe McGowan.

The Carlow side were on the ropes now and Longford's superior fitness came to the fore. Tullow were run ragged and were there for the taking. Longford Kieran O’Gorman, Benny McManus and Derek Farrell notably carried ball after ball as Tullow were constantly on their back sides, defending their lines.

Danny McHugh showed his spatial awareness with a beautiful chip over the advancing Tullow defence. The ball bounced into the hands of Joe McGowan who slid in for a beautifully worked try.

Unfortunately the conversion was narrowly missed which left the game at 23-22 to Tullow with five minutes remaining. At this stage, the local support was silenced as they were busy biting their nails and hoping the referee would call it a day.

Longford were rightly awarded a late penalty to the left of the Tullow post which the referee allowed advantage to Longford and inexplicably brought the penalty back to a disputed position to where the original offence was committed, thereby adding pressure to the difficult kick. Unfortunately Joe McGowan, who has been Longford’s hero on many a day struck the penalty well but the ball drifted to the left and wide.

The miss was met with the delight of the large Tullow support with the final whistle been blown at the next phase of play. There is no doubt that either team could have won this wonderful game of high stakes rugby. Longford can be very proud of their performance in a very difficult place to play and look forward to another away match in the week to come, away to North Kildare.

It is noted that second place Suttonians lost away to bottom of the table Portlaoise 21-0, allowing Longford to narrow the gap, to second placed Suttonians in the table to two points and sit proudly in joint third alongside Kilkenny who were victorious at home to Coolmine but failed to pick up the bonus point. The second set of games start next weekend with it all to play for and certainly Longford in the hunt for League honours.

Longford: M Bannon, R Keith, D Quinn, A Hughes, B McManus, B Stewart (C), D Farrell, K O'Gorman, N Farrell, D McHugh, L O'Hallahan, S Rodgers, C Hughes, S Flynn, J Mc Gowan Subs J Forde, H Connolly, A Beirne, P Gallogly & C Kennedy.

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