Former Louth boss Fitzpatrickexpects Wee shock on Kildare's horizon
LOUTH have dumped Kildare out of the championship four times in six meetings since 1991, and once again the Wee County men pose a serious threat to the Lilywhites at Newbridge tonight.
Arguably this latest encounter is an era-defining contest for the home team manager Kieran McGeeney after his men were soundly thrashed by Dublin two weeks ago.
Since the Armagh All-Ireland winner took over in 2008, Kildare have become qualifier specialists and never failed to get to through to the last eight in the battle for the Sam Maguire.
Could his reign be ended by Louth tonight? It is a live possibility as the men in red go to Newbridge with confidence high and with three games – two wins and one defeat – under their belt compared with Kildare's victory over Offaly and subsequent hammering by Dublin.
There is a touch of synchronicity in the situation, as Louth were the last side to defeat Kildare in the qualifiers. They achieved that in 2007, winning 1-16 to 1-10 at Newbridge, a game which proved to be John Crofton's last fixture as manager of the Lilywhites.
Louth also shocked Kildare in their most recent championship encounter, the 2010 Leinster quarter-finals, again winning by a margin of six points on a 1-22 to 1-16 scoreline. It is, however, always a 'surprise' to outsiders – and to Kildare supporters – when the Wee County pours weed killer over the Lilies' ambitions.
Former Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick, now a Fine Gael TD, has experienced the thrill of victory against Kildare in three of their four big wins – as a player in 1991 and 1995, and as manager in 2010.
The odds were against Louth each time, as they were in 2007 under Eamonn McEneaney's management, but Fitzpatrick believes the underdog tag always suited the Wee County.
Kerry legend Mick O'Dwyer brought a Kildare team revitalised by his presence to Drogheda in 1991 but lost this particular Battle of the Boyne, albeit by a single point (2-11 to 2-10).
"In 1991 we had a fantastic team," said Fitzpatrick. "Stefan (White) scored the two goals and you'd the likes of Seamus O'Hanlon and Stephen Melia, so we had a very good team that time.
"The crowd on the day was maybe 15-18,000 people and I've never, ever, in all my days seen anything like it. That was worth four or five points in itself.
"It was a beautiful sunny day and it was tit-for-tat the whole game, and near the end when Jarlath Gilroy got a second goal for Kildare we thought the game was gone from us. But in fairness to Louth, we all kept bombing away and next thing we got a late goal and the game was over."
In his autobiography, O'Dwyer revealed the pain he felt.
"Losing to Louth wrecked our season. There was no 'back door' to resurrect us, so all we could do was walk away and start thinking about the next year which, I must admit, seemed an awful long way off as I drove home to Waterville that June evening," he wrote.
Four years later, Dermot Earley Snr was manager of Kildare when Louth came calling to Newbridge. This time Colin Kelly was the hero, scoring seven points in Louth's 0-13 to 0-7 victory.
Paul Kenny was the delighted Louth manager in his debut season, and the Irish Independent reported that Peter Fitzpatrick made a vital block in the frantic closing stages to prevent a Kildare goal.
"In fairness that was a very good Kildare team but I think the difference between the two teams that night was Colin Kelly. He could do nothing wrong. Everything he touched, free kicks and long balls, everything went over the bar," said Fitzpatrick.
Fast forward to 2010 with Fitzpatrick the new manager in his first year as Louth team boss.
"The changing point of the whole game was just after half-time. Mark Brennan took a very quick free-kick and gave it to Ray Finnegan and Ray put it in the back of the net. That left it 1-16 to 1-9 and a seven-points lead at that stage was very hard for Kildare to pull back," he said.
And the prospects for the 2013 chapter of Kildare versus Louth? Fitzpatrick is unequivocal.
"I went to see Louth against Wexford. If Louth had taken their points instead of going for goals they could have beaten Wexford by two or three points," he said.
"They were beaten by a point but with a few minutes to go they had an opportunity to go for a score but they went for a goal.
"I maintain that if Louth are to beat Kildare this time they have to take their points because points are going to win what I expect to be a very tight game."