Mickey Harte and Louth bracing themselves for big qualifier test

Chastening defeat to Kildare shows Wee County the scale of the task that lies ahead

Mickey Harte: ‘Bit by bit, we’re getting there and the boys are putting in the work. I think in a few years’ time they’ll be physically developed enough to bring that intensity.’ Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

It's the last thing Mickey Harte needed reminding about. After the "battering" – his own choice of word – at the hands of Kildare on Sunday, next up for his Louth team will be similar beefy opposition in the first round of the football qualifiers.

Promotion to Division Two this season, after coming out of Division four last year, rewards Louth with a qualifier berth, when they might have preferred the challenge of the Tailteann Cup. The challenge of playing Division Two football next season is also now clear, Louth in the company of Dublin and Kildare, among others.

Over the weekend. the four Leinster quarter-finals were won by a combined margin of 62 points, Louth losing to Kildare on Sunday 2-22 to 0-12; Dublin beat Wexford 1-24 to 0-4, Meath beat Wicklow 4-13 to 1-12, and Westmeath beat Longford 3-13 to 0-14

The semi-finals – Dublin against Meath, Kildare against Westmeath – have been fixed for Croke Park on Sunday week, May 15th.

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The Louth manager could be speaking for any of the four beaten teams when he says it’s all part of the learning experience. Still, Harte believes in the purpose and need of the provincial championship.

“I’m a fan of the provincial championships, I always was,” Harte says, “because I think what it offers all teams is a chance to have a big day in a provincial final.

“If you take that away, whatever other system you bring in they have nothing to aim for. And in any given season, depending on the luck of the draw, a team with a lower status at this moment in time could end up in a provincial final.

“Whether they win it or not is neither here nor there, but the fact they get to one would be a day to remember for them and their supporters. So I wouldn’t like to take that away from anybody.”

Louth go into the qualifier draw alongside the likes of Tyrone and Mayo; it would probably be in qualifier tradition to pair Harte with his former team. He doesn't disguise the fear of another battering.

Fighting chance

“I hope we get somebody that we can stand toe-to-toe with, and make it a close contest. I don’t know who that would be, but we don’t want a big-hitter or it’ll just be more of the same. We want somebody to give us a fighting chance, but that’s the luck of the draw, who that will be.

“It’s good that there’s another opportunity to play football before the season ends. On the other side of that, it’s against a Division One or Two team so there’s no easy out in this. No matter who you meet, they’re going to be seasoned and quality teams.

“There is a wee timeframe now to regroup and try to get one more game out of this and maybe two. It’s a work in progress. and the more games they get at this level, they’re going to get more experience and learn what it takes. Next year it’s going to go up a level again because every day you go out you’re going to be meeting teams that are well seasoned and physically able.”

Despite the apparent gulf between Louth and Kildare on Sunday, Harte still believes teams like Louth can only benefit from playing the stronger teams on a more regular basis.

“We’ve learned that, for sure, Dublin being in this division won’t make that easier either. There’s a lot look forward to, and a lot of work to be done, but you can only work at where you’re at and there’s a lot of young players who will learn about what it takes to play and stay at this level, which is very important.

“This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes three or four years to mature physically and mentally. If you’re playing in the top divisions then you’ve got to be at that.

“We’re starting out a bit behind the curve, but bit by bit, we’re getting there and the boys are putting in the work. I think in a few years’ time they’ll be physically developed enough to bring that intensity.”

What didn’t help Louth was the fact they had played the previous week, beating Carlow: “That’s probably an unfair part of the whole system as well, that you have these so-called minnow teams playing one week after they’ve played in the preliminary round. It doesn’t seem quite fair, a couple of weeks would seem to be better to do that but maybe that time doesn’t exist.”

As for Kildare, Harte sees them as provincial contenders now.

“Well sure it looks like it, they beat them [Dublin] in the league and they look to be getting a head of steam here now.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics