Conor Grimes strikes late to give Louth Division Four title
Jim McEneaney and Grimes impress as Antrim undone in second half comeback
Antrim’s Martin Johnson presses Conor Grimes of Louth at Croke Park. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Conor Grimes fired the decisive goal in injury-time at Croke Park as Louth capped Allianz football league promotion with the Division Four title.
Colin Kelly’s side trailed by five points with half an hour to go but battled back courageously, with the sides level twice late on in an entertaining contest.
Jim McEneaney’s 59th minute goal was crucial and though Louth hit eight second-half wides, and 14 overall, they came good when it counted at the death with that third goal from Grimes to seal victory.
The powerful full-forward was the name on everyone’s lips post-match although McEneaney finished with 1-1 and was the official Man of the Match ahead of their May 15th Leinster championship opener with Carlow.
The sides couldn’t be separated in the final round of the league three weeks ago and it was clear from the off that it would be another close encounter.
Tomas McCann hit 0-8 overall for Antrim and fired over with a goal chance after just 15 seconds - the northerners had four points on the board inside 10 minutes.
But Derek Maguire’s fifth minute goal for Louth kept them alive and a tit-for-tat scoring encounter ensued.
Louth were 1-4 to 0-6 ahead after 26 minutes but a strong Antrim finish to the half finally put some daylight between them.
McCann tied the scores up before Fitzpatrick hit an excellent 32nd minute Saffrons goal.
Captain Kevin Niblock did the donkey work with a clever pass through a group of players and Fitzpatrick raised the green flag.
Free-taker McCann added two more points and suddenly Antrim were sitting pretty with a 1-9 to 1-5 half-time lead.
The placed ball expertise of both sides was the highlight of a stop-start half with little in the way of atmosphere in front of around 5,000 at a spacious Croke Park.
Louth’s McEneaney scored the point of the half from a sideline ball way out on the right and Declan Byrne nailed two great points from open play though six early wides were costly.
Nonetheless Antrim forged five clear thanks to two more McCann points early in the second-half. But they were forced to play a defensive game for much of the third quarter as Louth upped the ante.
Byrne grabbed his third point for Louth when a goal attempt was deflected over. Stand in skipper Padraig Rath, replacing the injured Adrian Reid, and he had a shot blocked on the line too.
Antrim retained a 1-11 to 1-8 advantage with 20 minutes to go but by then it was anyone’s game.
James Califf’s second converted free of the afternoon for Louth brought the margin down to just two.
McEneaney’s expertly taken 59th minute goal then moved Louth into a dramatic lead and they were two ahead shortly after.
But this one was always going to go to the wire and the sides were level for the sixth time in the game entering injury-time, 1-14 to 2-11.
That’s when powerful Grimes played a neat one-two with substitute Ruairi Moore along the right endline and blasted to the net from a tight angle, sealing a dramatic win - before Maguire added the icing with a 76th minute point.
LOUTH: C Lynch; P Rath, P Reilly, K Toner; D Maguire (1-2), D McMahon, E Lafferty; J Stewart, J Califf (0-2, 2f); D Byrne (0-3), J McEneaney (1-1, 1 s/l), T Durnin; C McKeever, C Grimes (1-0), R Burns (0-4, 3f).
Subs: J Bingham for Toner 13, A Williams for Bingham 35+1 BC, R Moore for McMahon 44, G McSorley for Burns 75.
ANTRIM: C Kerr; N Delargy, C Burke, R Johnson (0-1); K O’Boyle, M Johnson, J Laverty; N McKeever, M McCann; C Murray (0-2), K Niblock, J Carron; B Neeson (0-1, 1f), M Fitzpatrick (1-1), T McCann (0-8, 6f).
Subs: R Murray for Neeson 48, P McBride (0-1) for Carron 53, D McAleese for Fitzpatrick 58, M Sweeney for Laverty 63, J Crozier for Burke 67.
Referee: J Henry (Mayo).