Thursday 27 April 2017

Royal rematch eases Louth pain

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Rarely if ever has any county been able to put a defeat of such magnitude behind them so quickly and move on as if their season was only beginning again.

The Louth players and management were only coming to terms with the scale of an embarrassing defeat for the Division 3 champions to Carlow in Sunday's Leinster quarter-final when news of the draw in Carrick-on-Shannon filtered through.

By his own admission, Peter Fitzpatrick understood that he could have faced a torrid time over the next few days.

Louth, after all, had the journey to another Leinster final mapped out for them with all the heavy hitters in the province on the other side of the draw.

But the prospect of revenge against Meath has consigned the defeat to Carlow to distant memory.

"It has certainly made it easier to put it behind us, but having said that we're extremely disappointed not to have closed that game out in the last 10 minutes," admitted manager Fitzpatrick yesterday.

Fitzpatrick was on his way back up the Dublin Road out of Portlaoise when he heard the outcome of the draw.

"There is no denying it has taken people's minds off Carlow. But talk about the replay that never happened last year now taking place, that's misplaced. Last year is gone. We drew a line under that some time ago," he said.

"This is a good fixture for us but it is also a good fixture for Meath. They need something to kick-start their season too."

But the excitement of the opponents next week has been tempered somewhat by the decision yesterday to pitch the game into Kingspan Breffni Park as part of a double-header, with Cavan and Longford as a curtain-raiser.

There is some discontent that a home match has been fixed for so far away by the CCCC. From Dundalk to Cavan is a journey well in excess of an hour across some poor roads. The distance from south Louth and Drogheda in particular is even longer.

There was a feeling that either Pairc Esler in Newry or the Morgan Athletic Grounds in Armagh would have been a more convenient venue for the Louth support.

In most cases Kingspan Breffni Park would be a more convenient venue for Meath supporters.

The decision to move the match away from Louth was based on crowd capacity. Louth's premier ground, the Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda, has one of the smallest capacities in the country with just 4,500 accommodated for the Louth v Tyrone first-round qualifier in 2008.

Navan's Pairc Tailteann, which has always been Louth's home from home in the past when capacity issues have arisen, was never a runner this time.

Selling that one would never have been possible to the Louth public in the wake of last year's Leinster final, a clear indication that relations between the two counties remain strained.

And anyway the notion of giving away home advantage to your opponents couldn't be countenanced.

"In fairness you couldn't have expected the CCCC to suggest Navan or us to propose it as our ground either," said Louth chairman Padraic O'Connor yesterday.

O'Connor admitted he understood any discontent among Louth people about the venue, but added it was a problem for the county that they had no suitable ground.

Parnell Park was the initial choice for Louth, but with a capacity of just 11,000 CCCC were determined to steer them away from the northside Dublin venue. An important minor match was due to take place there in any case on the night in question.

Croke Park was also quickly ruled out because the relaid pitch apparently will need an extra day to recover ahead of the Leinster football semi-final double bill.

"Parnell Park was our initial choice but it wasn't feasible. I can see the logic of putting two games on in Cavan, but we have to address the capacity issue ourselves. This problem has arisen for us before," said O'Connor.

"There was a feeling that 15,000 would want to see this game but it's more likely to be in the region of 20,000 now."

Louth are looking at the possibility of developing three venues to a higher specification and capacity -- the Gaelic Grounds, the training facilities at Darver, and a joint venture between Louth County Board and Dundalk IT.

"We're looking at these three possibilities and by September we should no where we are going," said O'Connor. "So the disappointment in Louth should be with ourselves first that we don't have a suitable ground to host fixtures like this."

Both Fitzpatrick and O'Connor said they had no issue about the choice of referee for the fixture, a decision that is expected to be made tomorrow.

"It makes no difference to us," said Fitzpatrick. "Croke Park will make the right choice on that. It's not a concern for us or something we would try and influence."

Irish Independent

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