Louth boss Kelly putting faith in youth as optimism replaces 'negativity'
Louth manager Colin Kelly could well send out half a team of rookies to take on Antrim in Saturday's Division 4 final.
Kelly has overseen an extensive rebuilding process since taking charge, with many players in their first season of senior inter-county football.
The last few years have been difficult for Louth.
The side that won the Division 2 title in 2006 and went on to contest the controversial 2010 Leinster final is all but gone.
Replacing the pillars of that team is hard enough and Kelly reckons they might have "taken their eye off the ball" on what was coming next as the likes of Paddy Keenan ensured they were competitive.
"They were great servants for Louth but maybe as a county we took our eye off the ball a little bit in the last few years," Kelly concedes.
The comedown has been difficult. The last two years have seen successive relegations and unremarkable Championship campaigns and Kelly admits there has been some "negativity" around football in the county of late.
However, their run to the Division 4 decider offers encouragement.
"We had the O Fiach Cup against Armagh before Christmas and the lads were competitive and we knew then the had what it took mentally," Kelly replies when asked if morale in the squad had been on the floor earlier this year.
"We knew then it was up to us to get them to where they needed to be physically and tactically. And in fairness they have embraced everything we have asked them to do and they are very enthusiastic.
"The Louth squad of today versus the one from two or three years ago is very different. It's a totally new squad. We have lads who are teenagers or in their early 20s to the oldest lads who are maybe 24 or 25."
There were some bumps in the road to promotion but the character his young side showed pleased Kelly. They dug out a result against Waterford when down to 14 men, and they did likewise against Wexford when promotion was on the line.
This weekend offers a shot at silverware. Of the managers in charge of smaller counties, Kelly is one of the more pragmatic. He has stated that the idea of a 'B' championship is worth looking into and he has similarly logical thoughts on what is on offer this weekend.
"It's a national final. There's the O'Byrne Cup, the League, the Leinster and then it's the All-Ireland series but realistically as a player what can you win? So it is important," he says.
Louth face an Antrim side who went through their Division 4 campaign unbeaten. In fact, they only point they dropped was against Louth in the final round, when there was nothing at stake.
"Antrim are a good team and they are big down the middle and they have pace. They'll be a formidable team for us to face," Kelly said.
After Saturday, thoughts will turn to Championship, and Kelly knows summer campaigns for teams who have spent the spring in the fourth tier tend not to stretch too far. This time, they have been drawn against Carlow, who they have already beaten this year, but Louth have bitter recent experience of the Barrowsiders.
"We can't look past Carlow and I'm not just saying that," he warns. "We won Division 3 in Croke Park a few years ago and a few weeks later we were beaten by Carlow in the Championship. And that was just a year after we played in the Leinster final."