Denis Connerton's Longford journey continues
By Cian O'Connell
In January hope accompanies every inter-county team so Longford’s bright start during the Bord Na Mona O’Byrne Cup ensures the midlanders now face a Semi-Final trip to Meath on Sunday.
That is Longford’s reward for fine wins over Louth and Kildare with manager Denis Connerton encourage ahead of the crucial January 27 Allianz Football Division Three opener against Offaly.
“We are in bonus territory because when we looked at the draw initially we said we are away to Louth, who are now residing in Division Two and we had Kildare at home, a Division One team,” Connerton remarks.
“We said if we win one of those two games, that is what we are aiming at - to get one victory from the two games, so we are in bonus territory at this stage. It is very hard to beat competitive games rather than going around looking for a challlenge match, this is more meaningful for players.
“It was nice to have a home match because the last time we played at home was on March 19 last year, it is a long time ago since we played Sligo in the League.”
Longford’s mix of youth and experience have performed adequately thus far with Connerton keen to integrate emerging players into the panel ahead of the spring.
“The first round of the National League is what everybody is targeting, we are not alone in that,” Connerton says.
“It is great, it is good for us to have a good look at players. What we have done this year is we have 12 Under 21s in our squad.
“On Sunday from the 26 players we had available, and all we had available were the 26 when you put in long term injuries and players being ill. Everyone of those 26 got game time, probably not as long as all of them would have liked, but at least they got out on the park.”
Connerton acknowledges the importance and relevance of Longford’s successful Leinster 2010 minor winning crop to the county.
“In 2010 we won a Leinster minor with my assistant manager, Ciaran Fox, in charge,” Connerton reflects.
“That was a great achievement. By our standards it was a brilliant, brilliant team. Leinster is a difficult province to win at anytime so it was great for those lads to do that, the Robbie Smyths, the James McGivneys, Barry McKeons, are all part of our set-up and Paddy Collum.
“Those lads all came off that and they are the backbone of our team at this stage. Padraig McCormack was also on that team, we got a lot of mileage from it. We need a team like that coming along every so often to keep us vibrant in this end of the world.”
There is a decent cut to Division Three with Connerton expecting seven demanding fixtures. “I found since my involvement Division Three has been a difficult Division to stay in, never mind get out of,” Connerton states.
“You can get out of it alright by dropping down, but to get up out of Division Three is an extremely difficult task when you take into account that Armagh are in Division Three, they were in the All Ireland Quarter-Finals last year.
“Tipperary were in it last year and the year before they got to the Semi-Finals so there is a lot of very good teams in it and the standard of football is high. In the matches there is very little between the teams.
“For teams like Longford it is happening for them in the League because you are paired with teams at the same standard as you.
“The reason we are all here in the one Division is that our results leave us there. Our results determine that we are in Division Three and the teams we are playing in it too. We have a tough match away to Offaly, where we have lost our last two competitive games.”
Longford’s healthy recent rivalry with Offaly adds another layer what promises to be a revealing encounter. Connerton laughs when asked about the frequency of Offaly’s meetings with Longford during his tenure.
“It is strange, because it used to be Wexford,” Connerton says. “We used to be down in the sunny south east a lot of the time and they were up in the midlands a lot of the time too.
“At least Offaly is an easy commute for either team so there is a benefit, but we are playing Offaly more than we would like because we have lost out a little bit more than we would be happy with.”
Last summer following the guts of four decades in the classroom Connerton retired from teaching duties which he found rewarding.
“I had to take a little break from it,” Connerton jokes. “The life of a teaching principal to me is almost undoable. You have to make up your mind whether you want to be a principal or a teacher. That line between the two is blurred because there is a lot of admin coming into schools - a lot of paperwork.
“I was a teaching principal with fifth and sixth class in a four teacher school for 26 years. It was brilliant getting up going to work, but I just said my life is busy. I've other stuff outside of football that I do so I said I'd take a bit of a breather while I'm able.
“The teaching is a great job, a lovely job, it is very rewarding. Sometimes other people go to work wondering do they get any reward out of it, but teaching is a rewarding job.
“You can see the work you are doing being translated into the performance from the children in your care. It is a rewarding job and a great job, but sometimes you make up your mind to try to get out while in good health. So far, fingers crossed.”
Watching some of his former students graduate to the Longford senior set-up brought pleasure for the Rathcline clubman.
“A lot of my young players came through it. My own son Liam is recovering from a cruciate ligament injury. Shane Kenny is in the squad, he is after shoulder surgery, he hurt it playing against Dublin last year, he only got the surgery done in December.
“Then Shane Donohue is in our squad aswell, he is another past pupil of mine. I've had James Carroll in during the past and Aidan Mulvihill from the school also.
"So we had a lot of players in. It is lovely, particularly as my own club is Intermediate at the moment, it is nice to see guys getting an opportunity at inter-county level from an environment such as that. Sometimes the clubs that are there can be overlooked.” Connerton guided them on the right path.