Battered Louth land last-gasp haymaker
LEINSTER SFC FIRST ROUND: Louth 2-9 Westmeath 0-14:HOODOOS are all in the mind. You think? Westmeath might think otherwise after a case of daylight robbery at Páirc Tailteann yesterday where Louth, who have had the Indian sign over the midlanders in recent years, continued their dominance on the scoreboard with a toe-poked goal almost six minutes into injury-time that gave them the win.
Westmeath – who had the winning of the match for much of the second-half – must wonder what on earth they’ve done to upset the sporting gods.
Yet, the flip side of the coin was Louth, outplayed for much of the game and hanging on for dear life, kept going to the end and were rewarded with a Danny O’Connor goal on his intercounty debut that salvaged a win that owed most to dogged perseverance.
In a fifth meeting of the teams inside three years in both league and championship, Louth managed to make it five wins from five. How they managed it this time was beyond most onlookers and a good number on the field.
The fact of the matter is the decisive second goal came deep into stoppage time occasioned by a delay due to a nasty neck injury sustained by Westmeath full forward David Glennon. Louth centrefielder Ronan Carroll used his strength to keep the ball on the end line and somehow the ball eventually worked its way back to O’Connor, who first-timed it on the ground through bodies to the net.
Not pretty, but pretty effective.
That goal was the last scoring action of a match which took its time to warm up. Indeed, the majority of good football was actually played by Westmeath who, when they get around to hindsight, will realise some poor first-half shooting (when kicking 10 wides to half that number from Louth) and plain bad luck, with Callum McCormack’s shot late in the match rebounding off the crossbar when it could just as easily have found the net, doing for them.
In most sectors of the field, Westmeath seemed to have an edge: John Heslin was the dominant player around centrefield, Paul Sharry was part of a half-back line that integrated seamlessly with the attack, and goodness knows how many scoring opportunities were created, if not always taken, in the first half which ended with Louth managing to claim a 1-6 to 0-7 advantage.
Goal-scoring chances for both teams went abegging: in the 13th minute, Louth’s Carroll sent Mark Brennan surging through on goal and the defence rather obligingly opened up to give the rangy centre-half forward a clear shot on goal which he pulled wide; then, in the 16th minute, Westmeath’s James Dolan was firstly denied by goalkeeper Neil Gallagher and, then, on the rebound, by Jamie Carr coming from nowhere to block his goalbound shot.
The first goal, when it came in the 27th minute, lacked the drama of the near-misses. Brennan won possession and supplied a swift pass to Carroll, who continued his run and slipped the ball perfectly beyond the reach of Gary Connaughton.
If it seemed Louth, with wind advantage in the second half, had gained the upper hand, then Westmeath had other ideas. There was a dervish intensity to their play, which yielded five unanswered points in the opening 19 minutes of the half – a McSharry 45 followed by efforts from Heslin (2), David Glennon and Dolan – that moved Westmeath into a deserved three-point lead, with the flow only stemmed by two Darren Clarke pointed frees as Louth struggled to stay in touch.
Then, it all went wrong for Westmeath. David Glennon’s injury – which didn’t even get a free – saw an eight-minute delay whilst he was attended and then stretchered off and, no sooner had play resumed, than McCormack’s shot rattled the crossbar.
Within a minute McCormack pointed to increase their lead to two but Louth’s stubborn nature and team ethic ensured it would be a fight to the final whistle and Carroll’s point was followed by a reply from the impressive Heslin, which looked like the winning of the game only for substitute O’Connor to have other ideas with the match-winning late goal to set-up a second round tie with All-Ireland champions Dublin on June 3rd.
LOUTH: N Gallagher; P Rath, L Shevlin, G Hoey; R Finnegan (0-1), J Carr, D Byrne; P Keenan, R Carroll (1-2); D Crilly (0-2), M Brennan, A Reid; D Maguire, J McEneaney,
D Clarke (0-4, 0-3 frees). Subs: A McDonnell for Maguire (44 mins), D O’Connor (1-0) for Brennan (50 mins), R Greene for Shevlin (53 mins), C Rafferty for Byrne (58 mins), JP Rooney for Crilly (67 mins).
WESTMEATH:G Connaughton; M Curley, J Gaffey, K Maguire; D Harte, P Sharry (0-2, 0-1 45), D McDermott (0-1); J Heslin (0-5, 0-2 frees), P Bannon (0-1); K Martin (0-1), G Egan (0-1), J Dolan (0-1); Denis Glennon, David Glennon (0-1), M Ennis. Subs: C McCormack (0-1) for Ennis (51 mins), R Foley for David Glennon (67 mins), A Giles for McDermott (76 mins).
Referee: M Higgins (Fermanagh).
FITZPATRICK GLAD TO HAVE NICKED IT FOR A CHANGE
POST-MATCH TALK: THE politician in him might have had some sympathy for the vanquished, but the football manager in Peter Fitzpatrick only had thoughts for his own men who had somehow contrived to extract a late win.
“I think we deserved it,” said the Louth chief, adding: “A game is not over until the final whistle goes and we have learnt that the hard way in the past number of years.”
The unlikely source of the late, late goal though was a bit like a magician plucking a rabbit out of the hat. A month ago, Danny O’Connor wasn’t even in the squad but a combination of injuries and emigration forced Fitzpatrick to spread his net a little wider and the young forward was one of those drawn in.
As Fitzpatrick put it, “One thing we are not afraid to do is to empty the bench. Danny O’Connor is a young lad, only 21 years of age, and we saw him playing for his club a few weeks ago and put him in the panel. He got the goal and that is what it is all about. The commitment of this team is brilliant I said to the lads whether you win by a point or 10 points it doesn’t matter.”
For his part, O’Connor described his introduction to the cut and thrust of championship football as “the stuff of dreams”.
Of the match-winning goal, O’Connor said: “The pressure was real last-chance stuff . . . I don’t remember much, the ball just broke and I threw a leg at it and lucky enough it went (in). We were holding on for dear life at the end. To be honest, we mightn’t have deserved to win but it’s that never-say-die attitude we have.”
Westmeath manager Pat Flanagan’s job is to pick his men up. “I can’t fault the boys, (we) played exceptionally well. Sometimes you don’t get the rub of the green. We hit the cross bar and they got a toe poke of a goal and the difference is we are going out of the championship which is very difficult to take.”
The qualifiers beckon for Westmeath, the All-Ireland champions for Louth. Such is championship football.