Allianz HL D3B Final: Longford edge thriller
Allianz Hurling League Division 3B Final
LONGFORD 2-15 SLIGO 3-10
By Aonghus O'Maicin at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence
Only the hardy braved the wretched conditions in Mayo for what turned out to be a hour and a half of physical, passionate and heavy-hitting hurling. Two periods of extra-time were ultimately required to decide on a Division 3B champion, but Longford eventually emerged to overcome the challenge of the reigning Lory Meagher cup champions.
The Leinster men had began the game with an obvious hunger that simply never diminished; early scores from Reuben Murray, Shane O'Brien and Cathal Mullane set the pace before a wondrous goal from David Buckley catapulted the Midlanders into a five-point lead.
Sligo, clearly struggling to execute basic skills as a result of cold and windy afternoon with a shower of stinging hailstones thrown in, got back within four points by half-time, dual-star Gerard O'Kelly Lynch leading the way from placed-balls.
The 1-5 to 0-4 half-time scoreline was a perfect illustration of the scrappy affair on offer, which was understandable giving the strong current blowing in and swirling around the pitch. Nevertheless, the teams continued to spar and the game picked up slightly after the interval.
Although hailstones began to pummel down heavily at the start of the second half, Sligo sprung to life and a clever cross-field ball from Joe Starr made its way to Kevin Gilmartin who, in turn, struck the sliotar along the sod and into the net. O'Kelly Lynch followed up with another free to get the Sligo men within a point for the first time since the opening minutes.
Instead of pushing on again, though, the Connacht side let Longford string off a couple of points without reply before O'Kelly Lynch buried a shot low into the corner of net to register Sligo's second goal. Gilmartin eventually got Sligo's third goal, but his effort was flanked by superb Longford scores from Bart Hanley and David Buckley to keep the Leinster side ahead.
A last minute O'Kelly Lynch free, however, meant the game would only be decided with two additional periods of extra-time.
But Longford weren't determined not to let a lead slip again and when substitute Alan Sorohan rattled the net the league title looked destined for one direction only.
O'Kelly Lynch continued to lead the way for Sligo, while Kevin Banks also bisected the posts with a neat effort, but the deficit was just beyond the side's reach and it was a Longford pair of arms in John Mulhern raising the reward.
Scorers for Longford: David Buckley 1-3 (2fs), Cathal Mullane 0-4 (3fs), Alan Sorohan 1-0, Bart Hanley 0-3 (1f, 1'65), Enda Naughton and Reuben Murray 0-2 each, Shane O'Brien 0-1.
Scorers for Sligo: Gerard O'Kelly Lynch 1-7 (5fs), Kevin Gilmartin 2-0, Eoin Comerford (f), Kevin Banks and Joe Starr 0-1 each.
LONGFORD: Éanna Daly; Cian McLoughlin, Gerard Moore, Paddy Corcoran; Johnny Casey, Karl Murray, Bart Hanley;Paul Barden, David Buckley; Cian Kavanagh, Cathal Mullane, Reuben Murray; Shane O'Brien, Enda Naughton, John Mulhern.
Subs: Daniel Connell for Mulhern (57), Alan Sorohan for O'Brien (66), John Mulhern for Kavanagh (84), Paul Leonard for Buckley (90).
SLIGO: Kevin Brennan; Tommy Kelly, James Weir, Danny Keown; Gerard O'Kelly Lynch, Liam Reidy, Kevin Banks; Ronan Cox, Brian Shannon; Gary Cadden, Kieran Prior, Eoin Comerford; Kevin O'Kennedy, Kevin Gilmartin, Joe Starr.
Subs: Tony O'Kelly Lynch for Shannon (25-half-time, blood-sub), Tony O'Kelly Lynch for Comerford (half-time), Joe McHugh for Prior (44), Rory McHugh for O'Kennedy (53), Niall McDermott for Kelly (77), Kieran Prior for Cadden (83).
REFEREE: James Clarke (Cavan).