Louth go through but take time to shake off Antrim

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Round One: Louth 1-17 Antrim 1-11

 

Hot favourites Louth led from start to finish at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday but only managed to shake off a gritty Antrim challenge in the closing stages of an error-ridden contest.

Touted as “home bankers”, Aidan O’Rourke’s side carved out commanding leads in both halves – six points in the first and a whopping seven-point cushion after 48 minutes – but the visitors steadfastly refused to throw in the towel on what has been a frustrating first season for Frank Dawson.

A well-worked and superbly finished 15th minute goal from Ciarán Byrne put the Saffrons on the back foot early as Louth opened a 1-4 to 0-1 lead, but inspired by the strong running of Conor Murray and unerring accuracy of Paddy Cunningham, the Saffrons managed to limit the damage to just four points at the interval, 1-7 to 0-6. However, Louth repeated that bright start in the second period and extended their advantage to what appeared to be a match-winning seven-point margin, 1-11 to 0-7.

But still smarting from the criticism following a tame Ulster Championship exit to Monaghan, Antrim dug deep and were rewarded when Michael Pollock rifled past Neil Gallagher on 49 minutes.

Buoyed by that reprieve, the visitors closed the gap to just two points with 17 minutes of normal-time remaining, but to Louth’s credit, when the hard questions were asked they found another gear, and inspired by Paddy Keenan and Ronan Carroll at midfield and full-forward Shane Lennon, they pulled away in the end.

Tricky first hurdle
That was the main thing for O’Rourke, who was just relieved to sidestep a tricky first hurdle. “I suppose we won’t over-analyse the mistakes,” he said. “First-round qualifiers are always the same, everyone was very nervous on both sides and there tends to be a lot of mistakes, so it was just about getting over the line and buidling a bit of confidence – anytime you win a qualifier by six points it’s a good days work.’

His counterpart Frank Dawson must pick up the pieces of a disappointing season that yielded relegation from Division Three but he was proud of the way his team played.

“We did a lot of things right to win the game, but we just came up short,” he insisted. “I just hope you people (the press) are kinder to the players’ efforts, because I thought they played some brilliant football.”