Despite going down to ten men after just eight minutes on League of Ireland soil on Monday night, Drumcondra almost forced an extra-half an hour against Premier Division Longford, with a last gasp corner cleared off the line denying the Dublin side a deserved draw inside the regulation time.
With Tony Cousins Town largely made up of under-19 players on the night, the Red and Black looked extremely jittery and nervous in possession against what was a physically imposing senior outfit. However, that physicality was to cost the “Drums” early on as in one of the first major incidents of the game, Drumcondra’s number nine, Lennie McMillan lunged in two-footed on Town ‘keeper Molloy in a desperate attempt to turn the ball home but instead he caught the former Leeds United shotstopper and instantly the referee brandished a straight red card. While it was a crunching tackle on eighteen-year-old Molloy, the ball was open to challenge and no calls of malicious intent can be labelled at the strikers feet.
The loyal home supporters who did turn out at the Strokestown Road venue expected the hosts to take control from there but if anything the extra-man advantage only added to Longford’s nervousness on the ball and it was no surprise when the visitors took a stunning first-half lead. A needless corner was conceded by the home side in front of a deserted Section O side of the ground, failing to deal with the initial ball and then the second break, the ball fell at the feet of John Reilly who unleashed a rasping dipper of a shot from outside the angle of the eighteen-yard-box to beat Molloy and send the away fans into raptures. It was no more than the underdogs deserved as the team from the Capital had been far more composed throughout the opening half than their League of Ireland opponents.
Tony Cousins had seen enough and at half-time he introduced the off-season signing of Kealon Dillon into midfield. The Westmeath man’s impact was instant as he brought a spark and drive to Longford Town’s play, willing to collect the ball deep and beat opposition players before delivering hair splitting passes. The arrival of former Athlone and Bohemians man Dillon also allowed Jamie Mulhall to play a more prominent role in proceedings as the nippy number two flew past defender after defender in the second half. Kaleem Simon was the next established star to hit the pitch as he replaced Cian Fay and within seconds of hi arrival in the forward line the former UCD man was terrifying the Drumcondra centre-half with his pacey and penetrating runs.
Following a foul on Simon on the edge of the area, Dillon and the man who won the free-kick stood over the ball hoping to get the nod to take it on, however it was the number seven Kealon Dillon who was elected to strike and when his effort clipped the edge of the wall, goalkeeper Connolly was left with no chance as the ball cruelly sailed past him and into the roof of the net. Game on and City Calling Stadium.
Longford began to crank up the pressure now as Noel Haverty was called from the bench to replace a returning Pat Flynn and despite the hosts missing a number of decent opportunities as time wound down, “Havo” was to be the hero on eighty-five-minutes as his header from a well earned corner finally saw Town take the lead.
The drama was not over yet however, as with seconds remaining on the “CCS” clock, a Rory Delap like throw-in saw the “Drums” earn a sudden death corner and some awful defending from a lucky Longford ended with the ball being cleared off the line with only blades of grass to spare. The desperate Dublin fans appealed vigorously to the linesman to raise his flag but Haverty’s clearance was to be the final action of a surprisingly epic Leinster Senior Cup encounter as the League of Ireland side advanced to the next round. “Who thought the Leinster Senior Cup could be so exciting” was one of the comments heard from the home fans as they left the ground while Drumcondra’s excellent traveling support showed their appreciation for a bravebrave display by the boys in Blue. Up next for “De Town” is a massive league showdown with St.Patrick’s Athletic at home on Friday night.
BETWEEN THE STRIPES MAN OF THE MATCH: Kealon Dillon (Longford Town)