Thursday 21 September 2017

Sideline can't ride to Louth's rescue

Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Of all the counties in Leinster, Louth have one of the worst records in the past 25 years against Dublin in the championship, so Wee County fans must tread with some trepidation when they make the short journey to Croke Park tomorrow.

Not only is tradition heavily against them, but their form in recent months has been less than brilliant.

Coupled with the fact that the opposition are impressive All-Ireland champions, it is obvious that Louth face a mighty mental and physical challenge.

Of course the biggest thing hanging over Louth is that they are returning to Croke Park for the first time since their heartbreaking defeat in the 2010 Leinster final against Meath.

The Royal County's Joe Sheridan illegally bundled the ball across the goal-line at the Canal End for one of the most infamous scores ever recorded in Croke Park.

That the effort was allowed to stand was a horrific decision which deprived Louth of their first Leinster title in over 50 years and left a deep psychological scar on the county for a long time afterwards.

The great thing about sport is that time moves along quickly and there is always another championship and another chance to rectify a previous wrong.

But for Louth to do that this year is next to impossible, because they are facing the champions in their home ground.

Had this game been in Navan, where Louth and Dublin met so often in the past, then the atmosphere and impetus would be much more in Louth's favour.

However, with Dublin now apparently guaranteed a home venue every time they play a provincial championship game, then that option is not there for Louth.

Dublin obviously have a much better group of players than Louth have; they are a team that's been built up over the last five or six years and they have strengthened their panel from last year through the talented players from their All-Ireland-winning U-21 side of this year.

But, of course, Dublin are not invincible either.

favourites

The last time we saw this was when their minor team of last year bulldozed their way through to the All-Ireland final as the hottest of favourites only to be beaten by Tipperary. That was a genuine shock result.

In line with the new craze in team preparation, Louth have enlisted several famous outsiders to assist manager Peter Fitzpatrick in preparing the team and they certainly went for quality.

At the last count, those in the Louth dugout included former Dublin goalkeeping icon John O'Leary from nearby Balbriggan in north Co Dublin, and from the other side of the country former Donegal All-Ireland-winning manager Brian McEniff. Down man Declan Mussen is also involved.

So there is no shortage of talent on the Louth sideline, whatever about on the playing pitch. But by comparison with Dublin, what Louth really lack is not mentors, but players of the highest quality.

Louth certainly have had a few very good years and are now firmly established in Division 2 of the league, which is a big improvement on the recent past.

But their preparations since the 2010 fiasco have been seriously interrupted with several players opting to travel abroad for long periods, a problem exacerbated by the usual serious injuries, most notably to full-forward Shane O'Hanlon this year.

These things have an unsettling effect on morale as well as performances. Dublin, on the other hand, have assembled a large enough panel to absorb a few injuries and even temporary emigrations.

Rory O'Carroll in the winter of 2010/11 missed out on the draconian morning training of his colleagues, but arrived home last June and took his place at full-back on the Dublin team as if he had never gone away.

These things prove that there's exceptional character in the Dublin players and such qualities will see them through tomorrow, and probably on a lot more days this year.

The only danger to Dublin this year is that a handful of players may believe that because they have an All-Ireland medal in their back pocket they do not need to have the same fanatical dedication of last year.

Only later in the season will we learn if they've avoided that pitfall.

Irish Independent

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