Monday 27 March 2017

Fitzpatrick happily back at 'crime' scene

Peter Fitzpatrick will bring his Louth team back to Croke Park this weekend for the first time since their infamous Leinster SFC final defeat to Meath last year
Peter Fitzpatrick will bring his Louth team back to Croke Park this weekend for the first time since their infamous Leinster SFC final defeat to Meath last year

HIS colourful description of the way they were robbed of a Leinster title -- "Dick Turpin without a mask!" -- was one of the sporting quotes of last year.

But Louth football manager Peter Fitzpatrick insists all traces of that goalmouth nightmare have been firmly erased from his team's collective memory bank as they return to the scene of the 'crime' -- Croke Park -- tomorrow for the first time since their Leinster final heartbreak.

"Mentally, all that is long since over and done with, we're nearly a year older and more mature. The way things have turned out, we just regard going back to Croke Park at this stage of the year as a complete bonus," he said ahead of their Allianz Football League Division 3 final against Westmeath.

They have had further drama since the Leinster final both on and off the field, as their manager became one of Fine Gael's newly elected TDs and his side survived a rollercoaster season.

The fitness fanatic was heralded as a football messiah for getting the Wee County into the provincial decider last summer and he's certainly had to do a bit of a loaves and fishes job since.

EMIGRATION

Not only did he lose midfield star Brian White to emigration but two of his key defenders -- All Star nominated corner-back John O'Brien and centre-back Mick Fanning -- also joined the country's burgeoning diaspora, forcing Fitzpatrick to radically reshape his team, especially in defence.

Even after scraping into a league final thanks to score difference, their problems have continued. Full-forward Shane Lennon limped out of their vital last-round victory over Waterford with a quad injury and will definitely miss out tomorrow.

And last night Fitzpatrick also confirmed that half-forward Mark Brennan (back injury) and corner-back Gerard Hoey also won't make it. Hoey's loss is a particularly bad blow as he is one of the newcomers who have helped shore up Louth's defence this season.

One of the biggest talking points has been Fitzpatrick's decision to move regular full-back Dessie Finnegan to centre-back and bring Aaron Hoey in at full-back. Veteran Hoey is best known as attacker but has always been 'Mr Versatility' for Louth and Fitzpatrick says he hasn't disappointed him yet.

"Aaron's one of the most experienced footballers around -- I reckon he could play any position on the pitch," Fitzpatrick said.

"If I wanted him to play in goals he'd probably do that too and he certainly hasn't let me down yet."

What is particularly remarkable is that, despite their big defensive reshuffle, Louth have conceded a total of only 3-77 this season, which is the best defensive record in the top three divisions and more miserly even than the likes of Kildare and Tyrone, who both conceded 3-80.

Louth still suffered a worrying mid-season slump -- three defeats in quick succession to Offaly, Limerick and Cavan, which saw their promotion hopes almost written off before they rescued them with a victory in the last round and dramatically secured the second final spot ahead of Wexford on scoring difference.

"In fairness, the three games we lost were by a total of seven points and we were very unlucky at times," Fitzpatrick stressed. "We started going for goals instead of putting away our chances, but we had to beat Waterford the last day, which wasn't easy in Dungarvan, but we did it."

Free-taking ace Darren Clarke was recalled to their starters that day and it remains to be seen if he makes tomorrow's side as the latest batch of injuries to hit the county have forced Fitzpatrick to delay selection until just before throw-in.

"We beat Westmeath by eight points in our first game this year but that was on a very wet Saturday evening," he said. "This one will be very different."

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