Saturday 16 December 2017

A fresh start

John Savage

THE All-Ireland Qualifiers may have been branded 'stale' in some quarters in recent weeks, but for Louth hitman Derek Maguire, the backdoor is still a chance for a fresh start and maybe even a summer journey that just wouldn't have been possible 14 years ago.

While the luxury of a safety net may not be ideal when you're staring down the barrell in the heat of a provincial championship clash, it's still a relief when it ultimately breaks your fall.

'I suppose maybe it slipped into the back of our mind [against Wexford] that there is still a backdoor,' he concedes, 'but that's done now and hopefully we can push on and get another couple of games under our belts. That's important, even just to keep learning and improving for next year, if nothing else.'

The odds will certainly be stacked in Louth's favour on Sunday as they start their Qualifier journey on home soil against an Antrim side that was relegated from Division 3, but Maguire knows Louth are in no position to take any team for granted.

'They're not having a great year on paper, but we've played them twice in challenges and they are very hard to beat,' warns the Dundalk Young Irelands man. 'They defend very well, as you might have seen against Monaghan, so we'll be taking nothing for granted. They'll be capable of a big performance too, and they gave us a lesson up in Casement Park in the League a few years ago. But both teams have new managers and new gameplans so you can't read too much into that either.'

One of the biggest challenges facing a manager after a provincial defeat is repairing morale and even keeping players motivated, but Maguire insists Aidan O'Rourke has achieved both.

'We were on a bit of a downer after the Wexford game - I know I was anyway - but that's football, you have to pick yourself up and focus on the next game and we're only concentrating on Antrim now.

'Aidan has picked us up again and got us back on track. We were back with the clubs for a week, but we trained very hard last week and we're just looking forward to getting back out onto the pitch now. It was good to be back with the county last weekend because if you're playing the following weekend you need to be training and working on your gameplan.'

Despite wanting to 'move on', Maguire agrees that you're only as good as your last performance, and there's a deifintely a sense of wanting to set the record straight in the Qualifiers.

'Obviously there's a bit of regret there and the feeling that we didn't do ourselves justice. We only played for the first 15 minutes and then they put us to the pin of our collar for the rest of the first-half. We played in patches in the second half, but definitely showed what we are capable of. Wexford probably just had it worked out better in the first-half and that proved the difference.

'One point defeats can be hard to take because you look back on every little thing, usually something you might have done better personally. But listen we've taken the lessons on board and moved on and it's all about Antrim now.'

The Wexford defeat was Louth's third of the season in Drogheda, as opposed to just one away reversal in 2013, but Maguire insists it's up to the players to set that particular record straight.

'Obviously we haven't performed the way we would have wanted in Drogheda over the last few years, but that's where the game is and it's up to us adapt and make it a tough place for teams to come to.'

As one of a large number of players who departed the county scene before the Qualifiers last term, Maguire would understand the motivation behind Andy McDonnell's desire to head Stateside, this summer, and while the Blues man and the suspended John O'Brien will be missed, they are not irreplaceable.

'Andy and John are two big players, but at the same time we have a lot of strength-in-depth in the squad this year and I've no doubt the boys that come in will do a job - it's not something I'd be worried about.

'Back in 2007 during Eamonn McEneaney's reign we lost seven players between the quarter-final with Wexford and the Qualifiers, so losing one and having another suspended isn't too bad. Obviously we lost a lot over the last few years too, so we've good strength-in-depth going into the Qualifiers this time.'

And Maguire assured Louth fans he won't be cutting his summer short this year: 'I had my summer away, I'm staying put this year,' he adds.

The Argus

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