DUBLIN 2-6 LOUTH 0-8
If the O'Byrne Cup is about making an impression and standing out when you get the chance, Dublin substitute Daniel Watson can't do much more than he did against Louth here. In the sort of conditions that would best be described as character-building, he scored 2-1 off the bench to liven up an otherwise attrition deadlock of a game. Dublin won 2-6 to 0-8 in the end but you wouldn't say it was a match that will live long in anyone's memory.
Nothing makes the summer feel further away than O’Byrne Cup football in the rain. This was one of those nights that cleanse the game of every outside issue and leave you only with survival. How could a body worry about the ins and outs of the black card on an evening when the only thing distracting you from how cold you were is how wet you were? All anyone cared about was getting home, getting indoors, getting on the outside of something warm.
And that was just in the stands. Out on the pitch, both sides slogged away manfully but it was heavy going. The first half hour passed with only a solitary point on the board, a Jason Whelan effort for Dublin after 15 minutes which really ought to have been a goal. The conditions made any sort of fluency a distant dream and shooting became a lottery.
Louth had six wides before they managed a score but you'd need a heart of stone to take the by the ear for it. When they did eventually get going, it was like they'd bust open a door to find a sharp incline to roll down beyond it.
Brian White nailed a well-taken free before late replacement Liam Shevlin fisted a sharp point when referee Fergal Kelly played advantage after a foul. When the same followed up with a fine point from distance, it meant that Louth went in to the break with a 0-3 to 0-1 lead despite not scoring until the 32nd minute.
Matters improved somewhat in the second half but it wasn't the kind of thing you'd be getting carried away with. After White put Louth a further point up soon after the restart, Dublin began to find their sea legs. Shane Carthy landed a towering point in the 41st minute to bring it back to 0-4 to 0-2 and the All Ireland champions - for whom Philly McMahon was the only starter left from last September - began to move possession with a bit more certainty.
Their first black card of the year arrived soon after, corner-back Darragh Nelson sent to the line for a deliberate haul down of Louth forward Stephen Campbell. It seemed a reasonable enough call, even if Campbell wasn't actually in possession of the ball at the time.
That said, the perceived injustice got the crowd going which was no harm to Dublin as they gathered momentum. After the excellent White put another on the board for Louth, Paul Hudson replied with three in a row for Dublin to level matters.
Enter Watson. McMahon, who was sited at centre-forward for much of the game, found him with a lovely ball in over the top of the full-back line and the newly-arrived corner-forward buried to the net with his first touch of the ball. He followed up with a cracking point from distance with his second, sending Dublin into a four-point lead in the space of 60 seconds.
And when Louth scored three points on the pounce to set up a possible close finish, it was Watson who killed the game by slotting home a loose ball four minutes from time.
DUBLIN: 1 S Currie; 2 D Nelson, 3 S George, 4 M Fitzsimons; 5C Guckian, 6 B Cullen, 7 K Nolan; 8 D O'Mahony, 9 S Carthy (0-1); 10 C Walsh, 22 P McMahon, 12 J Whelan (0-1); 13 P Hudson (0-3, 0-1 free), 14 K McManamon, 15 G Sweeney. Subs: 17 J Cooper for 7 Nolan (h-t); 19 E Fanning for Guckian, 21 N McGovern for Walsh (both 47 mins); 25 D Watson (2-1) for Sweeney (53 mins); 23 Cian Mullins for Cullen (64 mins). Black card: L Fletcher for Nelson (deliberate haul down)
LOUTH: 1 S McCoy; 2 P Rath, 3 D Finnegan, 4 K McLoughlin; 5 D Crilly (0-1, 45), 6 G Connolly, 7 D O'Hanlon; 8 P Keenan, 9 R Brodigan; 10 D Byrne (0-1), 11 B White (0-3, one free), 12 B Duffy; 26 L Shevlin (0-2), 14 K Rogers, 15 S Campbell (0-1). Subs: 22 D Maguire for O'Hanlon (h-t); 13 C Doyle for Rogers, 24 P Sheehan for Brodigan (both 47 mins); 17 D O'Connell for White (59 mins).
Referee: F Kelly (Longford).