Leinster Senior Football Championship Semi-Finals
Sunday, 10th June at Croke Park: Carlow v Laois (2.00pm); Dublin v Longford (4.00pm)
When Leinster Council announced a double-header of football semi-finals for Croke Park on 10th June, Dublin fans could immediately mark the date in their diaries.
But who would have expected that teams representing Carlow, Laois and Longford would occupy the other three dressing rooms?
Laois, perhaps, were the most likely participants at this stage having regrouped under new manager John Sugrue in the league. Although Wexford almost killed off their early-season momentum in the first round of the championship, once they survived that scare, understrength Westmeath did not present a particularly daunting challenge in the quarter-final.
A hat-trick of goals from Paul Kingston provided the highlights as they continued their unbeaten run through 2018.
And their progress means the Dublin players will not be the only ones involved on Sunday with Leinster Championship medals – stalwart forward Ross Munnelly survives from Laois’s title-winning team in 2003.
The Laois v Carlow duel – a repeat of the Allianz Division 4 final which was also held at Croke Park in April – offers a massive opportunity for both counties. A victory would send Carlow into the final for the first time since 1944, while Laois haven’t contested the decider since 2007.
Carlow are really enjoying their adventures under Turlough O’Brien, and it’s expected there will be hundreds of green, yellow and red jerseys spotted among the predominantly blue colours of the other three counties at Croke Park.
An emphatic first round defeat of Louth was followed by an equally impressive victory over Kildare in the quarter-final. Disregarding their tag of rank outsiders, Carlow led for almost the entire game and the final whistle sparked jubilant scenes of celebration on the O’Connor Park pitch.
The accuracy – from frees and open play – of Paul Broderick, the surging runs of Sean Murphy and the brilliant late goal by Conor Lawlor helped make it a memorable afternoon for the Carlow contingent.
On the same afternoon, Longford once again proved that Pearse Park is a difficult venue for visiting teams with a deserved victory over Meath.
In recent seasons, some of Longford’s best performances have been reserved for the qualifiers but on this occasion they were determined not to let a golden chance to secure a semi-final place pass them by.
Goalkeeper Paddy Collum, corner back Diarmuid Masterson, midfielder Darren Gallagher and forwards Sean McCormack and James McGivney were among their many heroes.
Dublin, obviously, will be expected to easily dispose of their challenge next Sunday, just as they have against all other Leinster counties in recent seasons. The champions weren’t troubled by Wicklow last Sunday week and the first challenge for Longford is to play to their potential and give their loyal supporters something to cheer about on their return to Croke Park. Their tally of 4-25 last time out included 1-7 from Ciaran Kilkenny and goals from Con O’Callaghan, Brian Fenton and Dean Rock.