Well, nobody saw that coming.
The Irish Times certainly did not, previewing yesterday's qualifier clash between Monaghan and Longford in the following terms:
Shooting practice as Malachy O'Rourke gets a lovely opportunity to further integrate a talented under-21 group. No chance the dethroned Ulster champions will be bettered by a team that coughed up 2-21 to Offaly. That Longford recovered to just about overcome Down, easily the worst team in Ulster this summer, does little to dissuade from the argument of a rout with early goals and a constant stream of points.
Yet Robbie Smyth struck a goal eight minutes from time in Clones to lift Longford to vertiginous heights and prove that Championship hopes spring eternal on qualifier nights. It was arguably Longford's greatest qualifier scalp, which is a significant compliment: Mayo and Derry are among the sides who have fallen foul to Longford's back-door trap in the past.
Longford manager Denis Connerton spoke to Balls.ie in the aftermath of the game. He called the victory his finest personal achievement, and believes that the nature of the qualifiers help Longford enormously:
The qualifiers are serious Championship football. It's all or nothing, whereas when you're playing in Leinster you've got this huge giant looming there, in Dublin. That would play on young men's mind, I think: they would be feeling we can win a game here, maybe we can win two games, but somewhere along the line your reward is to play Dublin in Croke Park. They have exceptional players at the moment and they are extremely hard to beat.
In the qualifiers - it's a marvellous competition and some of the greatest Longford performances have been there. It is Saturday night football: Longford seem to play well on Saturday nights. There might be a better atmosphere [surrounding Saturday night games] and you're playing teams you might be playing teams you normally wouldn't be playing against.
While the idea of playing on a Saturday seems a rather intangible portent of success, there is absolute truth in Longford's embracing of the immediacy of the qualifiers and revelling in their novelty. Connerton is also realistic, however, and admits that the fact this was Monaghan's third Championship game in 14 days:
In fairness, Monaghan had played on consecutive weekends previous to facing us. Emotionally, mentally and physically, they would have put an awful lot into beating Donegal. Between them, Monaghan and Donegal have been involved in the last six Ulster finals. Sometimes, when you put that much into a game, you don't have as much to put into the next one. We were hoping for that, and I thought Monaghan looked slightly tired in the final stages. It's unusual for them: they're a high energy team, and Conor McManus is arguably the best forward in the country.
This is not to diminish Longford's achievement. It's been a tough path to get this far: 44% of those who were asked to link up with the Longford panel in pre-season declined; Longford have yet to play at home in the Championship owing to subsidence problems at Pearse Park and Connerton was involved in a dispute with the Longford county board over the scheduling of club fixtures before the Leinster championship tie with Offaly, a game Longford ultimately lost.
Beaten, but evidently unbowed, Longford have characteristically embraced the back-door, with the extra-time win over Down their eighth round one qualifier victory in a row. Down and Monaghan come from opposing ends of the Division One spectrum, however, and Longford beating the Ulster champions on their home patch will live long in the memory.
And so, what of that Irish Times preview?
Yeah we were written off beforehand, but we were just focusing on our own performance, trying to get ourselves right. That's the only thing you can control in football. We were trying to get the attitude of our players right, trying to get them to work as hard as they can.
It's an opinion, people are entitled to their opinions. We just have to focus on ourselves and not to worry about what other people think of us. If we were to worry about what others though of us, we might as well have stayed in Longford yesterday.
I'm sure a lot of the guys among our squad would have noticed that, and they wouldn't have needed me to bring it to their attention.
Connerton was coy when asked had he read it:
I wouldn't look at that, I have bad eyesight!
Cork will have to keep their eyes open.