LOUTH bounced back from a disastrous start to put themselves in a winning position at St Brigid's Park last Wednesday night, but ultimately came up short against reigning Leinster Junior champions Cavan.
After battling gamely to open a two-point lead with 20 minutes left on the clock, Kieran Maguire's men lost their way badly in the closing stages as Cavan kicked four points in a row to settle a disappointing contest.
The fare did improve somewhat after the break as Louth made their move, but the first half was low on entertainment value and quality - even if it did begin with a bang as Chris Conroy sliced straight through the heart of the Louth defence and rounded Joe Flanagan for what ended up being a simple tap-in to an empty net.
It was the worst possible start for the home side and at times in the opening quarter Cavan looked like they might open up a sizeable advantage, but to Louth's credit they dug in well and only trailed by two points at the interval - 1-3 to 0-4.
Shane O'Hanlon pulled an important point back after Conroy's goal and then Eoin O'Connor replied to a David Hyland point, but Cavan were deservedly four points clear on 20 minutes as Naill Murray and Conroy made it 1-3 to 0-2.
Louth would later rue some poor free-taking as excellent opportunities were passed up Sean McCann, James Califf and Patrick Sheelan, but they did finish the half strongly with back-to-back points from O'Hanlon and a very welcome McCann free.
Kieran Maguire would have stressed the need for a decent start to the second half and the situation became even more urgent when Barry Reilly opened the scoring for Cavan to put a goal between the sides again. However, Louth didn't let it dent their morale and Cathal Bellew certainly didn't, as he burst through the centre of the Cavan defence to fire low under the body of advancing keeper Alan O'Mara.
With their tails up Louth hit the front with a Califf point, but Cavan were soon back in front again with two points in quick succession from Murray and a Conroy free. When Louth kicked the next three scores from Califf, O'Connor and Sean Hand the game really appeared to be there for the taking, but Hand's brilliant effort from the right wing turned out be to their final score for 21 minutes and in the meantime Cavan came storming back like true champions.
Barry Reilly was instrumental in the Breffni revival, converting a '45' and a free from the same distance, while Paul Graham and Ross Sheridan chipped in with a point apiece. Sheridan's score was the crucial one as it put Cavan two clear in the final minute of normal time and while there was still time for Califf to send over a last-gasp free, Louth didn't look capable of conjuring the goal they needed.
CAVAN: Alan O'Mara; James Morris, Turloc Mooney, Oisin Minagh; Niall Reilly, Damien Barkey, Michael Brady; Marc Leddy, Ross Sheridan 0-1; Chris Conroy 1-2 (0-1f), Barry Reilly 0-3 (0-1f, 0-1 '45'), Niall Murray 0-2; Darragh McVitty, David Hyland 0-1, Conor Madden. Subs: Paul Graham 0-1 for T Mooney, Michael Argue for C Madden, Padraig O Fachtna for C Conroy, Thomas Moore for D Hyland.
LOUTH: Joe Flanagan; Peter Nixon, Bernard Mulligan, Keith McLoughlin; Gary O'Hare, Richie Brennan, Patrick Sheelan; Sean McCann 0-1f, Bevan Duffy; James Califf 0-3 (0-2f), Shane O'Hanlon 0-2, Cathal Bellew 1-0; Sean Hand 0-1, Eoin O'Connor 0-2, Paul Carrie. Subs: Niall Conlon for P Carrie, Gary Connolly for G O'Hare.
REFEREE: Garryowen McMahon (Dublin)