Smith and Grimes keep Louth motoring in impressive display
Louth 1-16 Leitrim 0-11
After a spring that brought five league defeats and relegation to Division 4, and a Leinster Championship that saw a seven-point reversal at the hands of Westmeath, Louth manager Colin Kelly will be delighted with his side's victory over Leitrim.
Even with the burden of all those results and the smell of a shock in the air, Louth swaggered to the win. Conor Grimes' goal seconds after his introduction clinched it, but even before his arrival Louth were four points ahead and utterly dominant.
Grimes, this year's U-21 captain, even caught the eye in the warm-up as a dominant physical presence, but he made quite an introduction after his 47th-minute arrival.
His team-mates know his strengths too and the ball was sent straight into him. The show of power was impressive to fend off the Leitrim cover, but the finish was just as stylish into the bottom corner. Kelly was impressed with his super sub.
"First touch: goal. Second touch: turnover. Next touch: point with a left foot. So he will be pleased with his night's work and he is a great outlet," said Kelly, who was delighted with his first championship win as Louth boss.
"That is what he brings to the table. The situation was, he was probably a little bit short on work over the last couple of weeks so we knew he wasn't going to start from a couple of weeks out.
"In fairness, he is a formidable opponent when he does those type of things. He took the ball and he has a very, very high skill-set. That is what is frightening, he has two great feet and he has pace."
While Grimes will grab the headlines - and deservedly so - Páraic Smith made Louth purr. Each of his three points from play was an exercise in how to create space, but his overall link play was sublime.
His first point came at a key juncture in the first half to put his side ahead after Leitrim had pulled them back to 0-3 each, and he then kicked two marvellous scores to get his side off to a strong start to the second half. "It was great all around, but I thought Páraic Smith was magnificent," added Kelly.
All year long Louth's Achilles heel has been the concession of goals, but Leitrim only managed to create a couple of half chances: the well-marshalled Donal Wrynn's eighth-minute shot on the turn was as close as Leitrim came. What will worry Louth though was their slow transition from attack to defensive mode - especially when they kicked shots short into Cathal McCrann's hands, which produced a couple of good scores on the counter for Leitrim.
In the end Louth were never troubled. Fergal Clancy kicked four points from play in the first half, but once his influence and that of Kevin Conlon was curbed, Leitrim looked rudderless.
"Louth definitely got a grip in the second half, I thought we were a bit stop-start in the first half too," admitted Leitrim manager Shane Ward.
"I thought we worked reasonably hard but Louth seemed to score with ease and we struggled to get scores on the board - Fergal Clancy apart. I'm a bit disappointed that we held back so much."
Game at a glance
Man of the match: Páraic Smith (Louth) Well challenged by Bevan Duffy, it was the creative brilliance of Smith that got Louth back to winning ways. He possesses a sweet jink and swerve that left Gary Reynolds clutching at air on more than one occasion.
Talking point: While no official attendance was announced in Drogheda, it seems remarkable that a five-minute crowd congestion delay was required for what appeared to be a small crowd. A good club ground, but Louth GAA deserves a new home of an inter-county standard.
Magic moment: Conor Grimes’ goal was top class, but the long-range free-taking ability of midfielder James Califf was a sight to behold. His three frees from outside the 45-metre line sailed over from off the ground. Brian Stafford-esque in his style.
Ref watch: Down official Ciaran Brannigan was right to black-card Pádraig Rath in the ninth minute for a third-man tackle, and let the game flow as much as he could. Maybe one or two Leitrim infractions could have been more severely punished.
What’s next? Leitrim’s season is over until next January, but Louth will hope for a favourable Round 2B qualifier draw.