Louth exorcise ghosts of Leinster final
Division 3 title as good as any provincial triumph, says Fitzpatrick
Louth 1-15 Westmeath 0-13
LOUTH, who became the adopted favourite 'other' team of every county in Ireland bar Meath last season after they were robbed of a Leinster title, finally took some silverware home from Croke Park on Saturday night.
Step forward, the Allianz Football League Division 3 champions for 2011, and take a bow.
The better team won, but Louth almost left this one behind them and had to dig deep in the latter stages of the second half to secure a victory that goes some way toward healing the mental scars of the 2010 Leinster final.
Oh, that match? The 'throw-in' goal that shouldn't have been by Meath that referee Martin Sludden missed?
Louth boss Peter Fitzpatrick and his players would prefer it be forgotten, left to rest in the dim and distant past.
This is a new year, new challenges abound, and the Louth team looks to the future, seeking to press on without carrying the burden of a nation's sympathy.
Ever so politely, skipper Paddy Keenan, who put in a man-of-the-match performance, and Fitzpatrick suggested that the Ghost of Leinster Past be left to fade into the shadows.
"We're trying to move on from that. We had a couple of years there we had a bit of bad luck, maybe a bounce of a ball," said Keenan. "We're a small county, we need every bounce of the ball to go with us. We'll put as much work as we can into it, hopefully get a bit of luck along the way, and use this win towards building for the championship."
Fitzpatrick added: "The big plus today coming into the game was knowing we're in Division Two next year. It's always nice to come to Croke Park and win a trophy and I think the people in Louth are very, very happy.
"Just do me one favour -- from now on, what happened last year in the Leinster final is over and done with. This win was as good as winning any Leinster title. I'm just delighted."
If Louth will struggle to escape the shadow of the 2010 Leinster final, this game was dogged by literal shadows. What happened to the floodlights at Croke Park?
As the second half wore on the light was fast disappearing, with the last rays of sunlight being blocked out by the stands. Keenan said that, if it had been a training game, they would have called for the lights to be turned on, but all that mattered to him was the winning result.
Westmeath suffered disappointment, but manager Pat Flanagan can look back with some satisfaction in gaining promotion and reaching a national final.
Westmeath, after all, had lost 15 successive League games from February 2009 to February 2011 when they drew with Cavan, and then hauled themselves up the table to earn Division Two status for 2012.
Flanagan's side, without talisman Dessie Dolan, who is on holiday in Australia, struggled at midfield, where Louth's Brian Donnelly and Keenan were supreme, and also for scores.
Westmeath's 0-13 match total was compiled by only three players -- Conor Lynam (0-5), Paul Greville (0-5) and Denis Glennon (0-3).
Louth got nine players on the scoresheet, an indication of the all-round effectiveness of their team effort, with full-forward Ronan Carroll top scorer on 1-3.
The winners made hard work of the first half. Donnelly opened the scoring after two minutes, but they wasted three good scoring chances before Keenan got their second point five minutes later. Lynam clipped over Westmeath's first score from a free in the 12th minute.
For most of the rest of the half the Lake County lived on scraps as Louth enjoyed plenty of possession. Converting chances to scores continued to be an issue, and each of their seven wides in the first half was a real scoring opportunity.
The reds paid a price for their carelessness, as Westmeath hauled themselves slowly and steadily back into the game. Between the 21st minute when Lynam got their second point, and the 36th minute when ref Rory Hickey blew for the interval, the men in maroon chipped away at Louth's lead.
Lynam (two), Greville (two) and Glennon each penetrated the Louth defence to put their side a point ahead at half-time, 0-7 to 0-6.
Louth brought on two subs at the start of the second half -- Jamie Carr and Derek Maguire -- and the latter made his mark with a 37th-minute point that put the sides level.
A jinking solo run by Lynam that ended with his putting the ball over the bar two minutes later edged Westmeath ahead once more, and the pace of the game rose as both sides struggled for supremacy.
It was end-to-end football but Westmeath, with full-forward James Dolan withdrawn as an extra man around the centrefield area, got a grip and led by three points -- 0-11 to 0-8 -- after 45 minutes.
Another hectic 15 minutes ensued, and the men in maroon led by 0-12 to 0-11 with 10 minutes to go.
Just at that moment, the turning point arrived in the form of Louth's 60th-minute goal.
Dribbling skills by JP Rooney that would have graced El Clasico ended with a low shot which Westmeath goalkeeper Gary Connaughton could only parry -- and there was Carroll eagerly racing in to drive the ball home.
Keenan tacked on a point two minutes later from a free, leaving his side three clear in the gathering gloom at pitch level.
Westmeath didn't fold, but Louth lifted the pace. They had the drive and dynamism of Ray Finnegan, the power of Keenan and Donnelly in midfield, the constant threat of Carroll up front, and strong contribution in attack by subs Rooney and Derek Maguire to steer them safely home.
Appropriately Finnegan, Keenan and Maguire produced the last three scores of the game as rampant Louth finished off the game in style.
Flanagan commented: "Louth suffered a lot last year and they've put an awful lot of effort in to get themselves in a position like they did today.
"Maybe there was a little more hunger on their behalf to make sure they got a trophy."
Man of the Match: Paddy Keenan (Louth)
Scorers - Louth: R Carroll 1-3, P Keenan 0-3 (1f), B Donnelly (1f), D Maguire 0-2 each, A Reid, L Shevlin, A McDonnell, P Smith, R Finnegan 0-1 each. Westmeath: C Lynam 0-5 (1f), P Greville 0-5 (1f), D Glennon 0-3.
Louth: S Connor 7; E McAuley 7, A Hoey 7, G Hoey 7; R Finnegan 8, D Finnegan 7, L Shevlin 7; P Keenan 9, B Donnelly 8; D Crilly 7 , M Brennan 7, A McDonnell 7; P Smith 7, R Carroll 8, A Reid 7. Subs: J Carr 7 for G Hoey (h-t), D Maguire 7 for M Brennan (h-t), S Fitzpatrick 7 for E McAuley (53), JP Rooney 7 for P Smith (59).
Westmeath: G Connaughton 6; F Boyle 6, K Gavin 6, J Gaffey 6; G Egan , A Finnan 7, D Harte 7; B Murtagh 6, D Corroon 6; P Sharry 7, David Glennon 6, C Lynam 8; P Greville 8, J Dolan 7, Denis Glennon 7. Subs: K Martin 6 for A Finnan (52), K Maguire 6 for J Gaffey (52), S Quinn 6 for D Harte (65), M Curley 6 for P Sharry (67).
Ref -- R Hickey (Clare).