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.
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.”