SHC Review: Longwood lions roar when needed most
Previously unbeaten Athboy side suffer reversal
They did it again. When Longwood were in the greatest need of a victory to inject some momentum into their SHC campaign they came up with the goods, conjuring up a forceful, controlled performance to get the better of Clann na nGael at Kildalkey on Friday evening.
The team in white and black are the great escape artists of the Meath hurling scene. Time and again over the years Longwood have come up with victories when they are most needed. Victories to avoid relegation. Victories, like this one, to stay in the championship.
Having suffered defeats in their opening two games (against St Peter's and Blackhall Gaels) Longwood simply had to win this game and powered by the qualities that have helped them in crisis situations before - a relentless work rate, skilful hurling, a fierce physicality, allied to a pride in the jersey - they did just that.
Longwood's cause was greatly helped by their ability to engineer goals with Anthony Healy, Gavin Griffith and Thomas Coloe all finding the net. In each of their previous two games the 'Wood could only muster one goal per outing but they reaped a relatively rich harvest of majors in this intense struggle that unfolded on Kildalkey's well-manicured surface.
It's impossible not to admire Clann na nGael. They are a young side with steel and guts but they are vulnerable to teams like Longwood who bring an intense physicality.
That sometimes results in Longwood conceding frees that can be costly but even with an eagle-eyed marksman such as Clann na nGael's Joe Ennis around they escaped paying a high price in this fixture.
Longwood's formidable esprit de corps was highlighted in particular during the second half. Aaron Ennis's troops led 2-6 to 0-8 at the interval. They continued to stay one step ahead as the half unfolded with both sides also missing chances.
After 38 minutes they led by a commanding six points, 3-7 to 0-10, helped by their third goal scored by Griffith. There was more than an tincture of good fortune about the score. Longwood 'keeper Mark Kennedy arrowed a puck out to Griffith in midfield. He, in turn, displayed a clever piece of skill to secure possession. He lofted the ball towards the Clann na nGael posts. The ball ended up going just under rather than just over the bar. The green flag was waved.
Some teams might have folded. Not the Athboy/Rathcairn men. Helped by Ennis's marksmanship (he ended up with 12 points, 11 from placed balls) the team in green and gold reduced the deficit to a point as the game slipped into injury time. They just couldn't kick on.
There are clutch moments in games, crucial turning points, and one of those came in injury time when Longwood stitched together a move, earned a free and Healy pointed. They were safe. Home and dry just as they rain started to fall in earnest. At times the hits were hot and heavy but referee Stephen Masterson kept a firm grip on proceedings, judiciously handing out yellow cards when they were needed.
Healy, not surprisingly, ended up as Longwood's chief marksman with 1-6, his opening half goal coming from a 20-metre free. Everyone expected him to slot over. Instead, for some reason, he powered the ball low and hard past the startled Clann na nGael players on the line. How crucial that goal turned out to be.
Coloe's goal was scored after Clann na nGael - who were curiously flat for much of this contest - struggled to clear a ball and the Longwood player touched the sliotar to the net after a mother and father of a goalmouth scramble. The winners had heroes all over the pitch and one of those was Ryan Moore who hit two points while Sean Coloe and Karl Ennis also capped busy enterprising displays with scores. Goalkeeper Kennedy also played his part with a super second-half save from Josh McGrath who jinked his way through the Longwood defence before unleashing a net-bound shot.
Clann na nGael had to plan without Eamon O Donnchadha (injured playing football) as well as Johnny Sullivan. For some reason they lacked the fizz and energy of the previous two outings when they scored a combined 6-34. Diarmuid O Donnchadha, Willie Gleeson were outstanding for them in this game and they registered three points between them. McGrath, Sean O'Reilly and Eoin Fitzsimons were also prominent and not just because they lofted over points.
They just couldn't muster a goal they needed while Longwood's durability and desire ensured they held on for a precious, badly-needed win.
Longwood - Anthony Healy 1-6 frees; Gavin Griffith 1-0; Thomas Coloe 1-0; Ryan Moore 0-2; Sean Coloe 0-2; Billy Hogan 0-1; Karl Ennis 0-1.
Clann na nGael - Joe Ennis 0-12 10 frees, one '65'; Diarmuid O Donnchadha 0-2; ; Eoin Fitzsimons 0-2; Josh McGrath 0-1; Sean O'Reilly 0-1; William Gleeson 0-1.
Longwood - Mark Kennedy; Paul Gill, Niall Mulvey, Adam Leacy; Ross Kerrigan, Ryan Moore, Billy Hogan; Anthony Healy, Sean Coloe; Gavin Griffith, Thomas Coloe, Kevin Maguire; Joe Stenson, Mickey Burke, Karl Ennis. Subs - David Coloe for T Coloe 42 mins, Bob Maguire for Maguire 51m.
Clann na nGael - Eoin Griffin; Eugene O'Reilly, Jack Doherty, Evan Cole; Gerry Sullivan, Killian Swaine, Ciaran Fitzsimons; Josh McGrath, Sean O'Reilly; Diarmuid O Donnchadha, William Gleeson, Aaron Ennis; Joe Ennis, Gearoid Breathnach, Oisin Durkan. Subs - Eoin Fitzsimons for A Ennis 24 mins, Darragh Swaine for O'Reilly half-time, Paul Tuite for Fitzsimons 34m, Rory Smith for Breathnach 40m.
Referee - Stephen Masterson (Kildalkey).