We can beat any team in this division – O'Rourke
Published 25/02/2013 | 04:00
In purely relative terms, is there a more important inter-county Gaelic footballer to his team than Paddy Keenan?
That question seemed so relevant midway through the second half of this refixed clash at a bitterly cold Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda on Saturday afternoon.
Measuring profile, expectation and resources, there is an argument to suggest that Keenan is as influential as anyone in any other county.
In the same way that Wexford's Matty Forde and Tipperary's Declan Browne perhaps elevated their respective teams to greater things in the past, Keenan retains that capacity in Louth.
Picking long-range passes off either foot, knocking maroon shirts backwards in the tackle, dropping back to provide an outlet for his defenders and pressing forward to strike three neat points, Keenan's performance covered just about every angle for a midfielder who routinely makes light of his dearth of trademark dimensions for the position.
This was one of those days when he just made the difference.
With the game delicately pitched towards the end of the third quarter, he simply stepped up a gear to provide the leadership Galway so badly miss.
Physically this was a very painful lesson for the visitors, mentally it was quite an eye opener too.
The weather, the surroundings – as a venue the Gaelic Grounds tends to take you back to a different era – and the stakes created an environment for a battle. Not long into the fourth quarter, however, you got the sense that Galway's flag had already been folded away. It wasn't so much a capitulation as a tame surrender.
Louth had coughed up a six-point lead in their opening game against Westmeath and manager Aidan O'Rourke was clearly seeking a reaction.
He's trying to change the way Louth play, paying much attention to more aggressive defence and a very direct service to their inside forwards.
But they can mix it up too, with the darting runs of Adrian Reid, Andy McDonnell and later Derek Maguire all punching holes in a disorientated Galway defence.
Brian White, one of their guiding lights in 2010 when they reached a Leinster final, complemented Keenan with his physical presence and vision around midfield.
O'Rourke's immediate ambition stretches beyond survival.
"We feel there is no one in the division we can't beat. If I go through the squad, player for player, I have no problem measuring them against any team in Division 2," he said.
For his opposite number Alan Mulholland there was much food for thought on the journey home.
For every step forward taken by Galway these days there follows at least one step back. How he must have wished for a leader like Keenan, or even a wing man like White, in maroon midway through that second half.
Niall Coleman competed zealously for three quarters, Joss Moore and Johnny Duane did well under the pressure in the full-back line and Finian Hanley eventually recovered after a poor start.
They might even point to a couple of very dubious decisions by referee Derek Fahy with the game so precariously poised. The decision to penalise Hanley in a race for possession with Shane Lennon that the Galway captain was clearly in control of demanded most scrutiny as it presented Lennon with an easy chance for a 0-12 to 0-9 lead 51 minutes in.
Though Danny Cummins did reply, that free seemed to embellish home momentum. But Galway never looked like they could match the aggression or deep desire and that seems to be a recurring theme.
"They were very strong and aggressive in the tackle," acknowledged Mulholland, who felt his team had "weathered the storm" when they retired at half-time tied at 0-8 each. That scoreline hadn't fully done justice to Louth, however, who led by four points at one stage.
Mulholland tried to balance the paucity of the day with the opening-day success over Derry and be mindful of brittle confidence in his dressing-room.
"When we win a game people in Galway tend to get ahead of themselves a little bit," he suggested.
"It seems to be a problem in Galway. When we beat Derry people seem to think we are a little bit further down the line than we really are. We aren't going to go totally the opposite after losing this game.
"We aren't world beaters, but we know we aren't that bad either.
"We are short on confidence a bit and we don't want to knock it. We want to keep the lads' confidence up, but the work rate there at stages in the second half wasn't good enough, so we have got to change that.
"The games we lose we tend to drop our heads a little bit."
Man of the Match: P Keenan (Louth).
Scorers – Louth: B White 0-4 (2f, 1 45), P Keenan, S Lennon (2f) 0-3 each, D Maguire 0-2, K Rogers, A McDonnell, M Brennan, A Reid, C Byrne 0-1 each. Galway: S Armstrong (1f), M Meehan (2f) 0-3 each, N Coleman 0-2, D Cummins, M Martin, E Concannon 0-1 each.
Louth – N Gallagher 7; G Hoey 7, D Finnegan 7, J O'Brien 7; D Crilly 7, C McGuinness 7, A Reid 8; P Keenan 9, M Fanning 6; A McDonnell 8, M Brennan 7, B White 8; K Rogers 6, S Lennon 6, P Smith 6. Subs: B Donnelly 7 for Fanning (inj, 26), C Byrne 6 for Rogers (h-t), D Maguire 8 for Smith (63), R Carroll for Lennon (68), L Shevlin for Finnegan (70).
Galway – M Breathnach 7; J Moore 7, F Hanley 7, J Duane 7; C Sweeney 6, G Sice 6, G Sweeney 6; N Coleman 8, P Conroy 6; E Concannon 5, M Martin 5, S Denvir 6; S Armstrong 6, M Meehan 5, D Cummins 5. Subs: C Costello 5 for C Sweeney (45), F O Curraoin 5 for Martin (45), M Hehir 6 for Cummins (56), M Boyle for Denvir (66).
Ref – D Fahy (Longford).