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'He's such an icon in Longford' - the methodical manager aiming to take down Meath

The42 takes a look at the development of Longford manager Pádraic Davis.

IN 2013, THE Longford U21 footballers produced a shock result when they defeated the then All-Ireland champions Dublin in the Leinster quarter-final.

padraic-davis Longford manager Pádraic Davis. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

On a rainy evening at Parnell Park, a Dublin team featuring some of the biggest stars in the modern game were contained to a humble tally of 1-5, one point less than Longford’s final account.

Ciarán Kilkenny, Eric Lowndes and Niall Scully were just some of the familiar names on that Dublin side. All three have been involved in the capital’s drive for the Sam Maguire six-in-a-row. 

Longford’s star players from that game were perhaps not household talents, but had silverware on the shelf coming into the tie too. There were Leinster minor champions in that side including Robbie Smyth, who pocketed 1-3 that night. Midfielder Darren Gallagher was also in that group along with goalkeeper Paddy Collum.

Longford, who had previously contested the Leinster final in 2011, returned to the final stage again after that stunning win over Dublin two years later. They fell short of lifting the trophy on both occasions, but the midlanders had proven their status as contenders among the heavyweights at that grade.

Eight years on from that time, and the Longford senior team is now profiting from those minor and U21 stars. Collum is the first-choice keeper, while Gallagher and Smyth are playing influential outfield roles.

Additionally, Longford is also buttressed by Mullinalaghta’s Leinster-winning cohort which includes David McGivney, Donal McElligott, Rian Brady and Patrick Fox. Allied to all that are stalwarts like Mickey Quinn, Kevin Diffley and Colm P Smyth.

At the helm is former Longford forward, Pádraic Davis, now into his third year as the senior county manager. He was also the U21 boss for that 2011 season. His selector at the time, Eugene McCormack, was his successor two years later for that scalp against Dublin.

“Myself and Pádraic had played on the county team when he was just coming in and I was going out,” McCormack recalls to The42 before going on to explain how they joined forces to take over the Longford U21s along with Cathal Conefrey and Pete McWade in ’11.

“I felt really privileged.

“He’s [Davis] such an icon in Longford in terms of his football ability. He was the top scorer nearly every time Longford played a game.

eugene-mccormack Eugene McCormack celebrates after that incredible win over Dublin in 2013. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I had worked with Luke Dempsey prior to that at senior level and then to get called into the U21s, I really enjoyed my time there. We had two years, got to the Leinster and got beaten by Wexford by a point which was hugely disappointing.

“But look that was my first time with him and that’s when I noticed he had that great head on him in terms of playing football.

“He had sewn the seed of confidence in 2011. We were complete outsiders and got to a Leinster final at U21 level. And all of a sudden, those younger players… when we went up to play Dublin that night, they were All-Ireland champions. They had a raft of players that’s still there to this day on this Dublin team with six All-Irelands.

“We always talked about the positivity in matches and being able to learn our trade at underage level, and we shouldn’t be looked down on.

“It didn’t surprise me that he went into management because he thinks things out and foresees things happening and stuff like that. It was great to work with him and we had a great management.”

Longford’s 2021 league results were mixed. In the newly-formatted Division 3 North group, they lost out heavily to Derry in their opening fixture. A more encouraging display followed against Ulster champions Cavan before playing out a draw against Fermanagh. 

They concluded their campaign on a positive note with win in a relegation battle against Munster holders Tipperary.

“Derry won the league so they were a good side,” McCormack points out in his assessment of Longford’s results in the league and Davis’ ability to react to defeat.

“Even though they were beaten against Cavan the next day, there was a huge improvement and the game after that was Fermanagh, which they drew.

“So they were taking little steps all the time of improvement and the big game of course was the relegation battle against Tipperary. He [Davis] picked a lovely team for that, a real running team.

“You could see the strength of Pádraic coming out then in terms of getting match-ups right and he was able to get a team that would hurt them. So, that was really pleasing but that’s typical of Pádraic, he’s very good at reading situations.”

Longford are already one game deep into their Leinster SFC after holding off a late fightback against Carlow to progress to a quarter-final meeting with Meath on Sunday.

They posted an impressive 0-25 in that victory, with 22 of those points coming from play.

Davis has elected to stick with a similar starting 15 in almost every game this year, and according to McCormack, continuity is a hallmark trait of his management style.

“Pádraic nearly bases everything on a set team. When he gets to know his team, he nearly sticks to it to a certain degree. Little changes every now and then and I suppose that was where his strength is. Once he finds something that’s working, he sticks to it.

“He’s nearly always got it right. He has a high winning margin with Longford so he’s ticking all the right boxes. He’s brought in a bit of youth as well.

“Your older fellas need that injection of pace and they need that enthusiasm coming in.”

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Elaborating further on how Davis prepares in the days leading up to a game, McCormack adds:

“One thing that struck me was that he’d be very quiet prior to a game. But the day before the game, he would have all the work done.

“He would be going through footage, we would have analysis and be going through the footage, showing the lads the strengths and weaknesses of the Meath team.

“What he will do then is be methodical going through it, making sure that certain things are done, especially in our defence.

“If we can hold Meath to 1-10 or 1-12, we have a great chance in this game. I think Pádraic will have looked at that and how he can curb the Meath impact.”

michael-quinn-celebrates-at-the-final-whistle Mickey Quinn celebrates after defeating Meath in 2018. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Longford prevailed in the last Leinster SFC meeting with the Royals, edging them out in 2018 to reach their first provincial semi-final in 30 years. 11 players who featured that day still represent the core unit of the Longford team in 2021.

McCormack believes that, aside from Dublin, Longford would have the measure of every other team in the Leinster champions. Meath are in that bracket, but a victory in Páirc Tailteann won’t be an easy find on Sunday afternoon.

“My biggest worries against Meath are their physical strength,” says McCormack, “they’re a side with a huge amount of running but their conditioning is probably just a little bit ahead of our lads at the moment.

“It’s broken into quarters now which might help Longford. If we can be in the game in that last quarter, I think we have a great chance because all the pressure is going to be on them. If we can handle their running, especially their physical running, and what I mean by that is that they’re not breaking our tackles and that we’re strong in the tackle.

“If we get that part of a it right, I think we have a massive chance and I think our own running style and turning it around on Meath and saying, ‘Can you handle us when we have the ball?’ I think Longford and Pádraic will put a little system in place to be able to curb Meath’s attacking threat.

“We need a stroke of luck as well, a little bit of luck on the day as every team does if they want to get progression. So I do think we need to take our opportunities but I wouldn’t be in awe of Meath and I think they’re there for the taking.”

– First published 07.45, 4 July

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