History on Louth's side for tricky Carlow test
When the Leinster Championship draw was made last October many Louth supporters were quite positive about our chances of making progress in the competition.
While our recent championship form has not been up to much, we were nonetheless coming off the back of successive league promotions which saw us climb from Division 4 to Division 2. Also, the minors had just reached their first provincial final in over 40 years.
With Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Westmeath all seeded into the last eight, Louth had little to fear in the opening round from Carlow, who had languished in Division 4 for years. The other good news was that Dublin and Meath were on the opposite side of the draw, so it probably meant Kildare in the quarter-finals and Westmeath in the semis, provided we got over Carlow on May 13th. Some really optimistic fans might have even dreamed of a possible appearance in the newly-formed 'Super 8s'.
Fast forward seven months and the positivity and optimism has vanished. After a miserable league campaign where we failed to gather a single point, never mind a win, Louth were relegated back to Division 3 in most disappointing fashion.
Following those seven league defeats, many of them by wide margins, Pete McGrath and his backroom team would have had their hands full in rebuilding the confidence and morale within the squad.
Carlow, who enjoyed their best league campaign for 30 years, gaining promotion to Division 3, are now a different proposition than they were back in October when the draw was made.
Turlough O'Brien's men will really fancy their chances of turning us over in Portlaoise on Sunday. They will, however, be without the services of star midfielder Brendan Murphy who has surprisingly decided to go Stateside for the summer.
Carlow last defeated Louth in the 2011 championship when a Peter Fitzpatrick-managed side succumbed to the Barrowsiders 0-14 to 0-13, again at the Portlaoise venue. Luke Dempsey's men reeled off the last four points, including three from the aforementioned Murphy, to snatch a dramatic victory.
We were flying high at the time following the previous summer's Leinster final appearance, but Carlow caught us on the hop and made good use of the extra man in the second period following Dessie Finnegan's 34th-minute dismissal. We crashed and burned a fortnight later in Breffni Park when Meath put five goals past us in the Qualifiers.
While optimism for Sunday is quite low around the county, I do expect us to grind out a victory. Despite our disappointing league form, none of our players will feel they are incapable of beating Carlow and sometimes that's enough to get us across the line.
Putting the surprise 2011 defeat to one side, Louth have always held the upper hand over Carlow and that usually is worth those few extra scores.
I remember some close encounters myself against them in the 1990s, but we always had sufficient knowhow and belief to see them off. I recall Stefan White banging in a couple of goals down in Dr Cullen Park in 1990 during Frank Lynch's reign to win by a couple of scores and beating them in 1997 under Paul Kenny when my brother Cathal bagged another on a scorching hot day in Newbridge.
The 2018 championship kicked off on Sunday in Ruislip and The Bronx where Sligo and Leitrim saw off London and New York respectively. There was real hope in the Big Apple that the exiles would take their first-ever Connacht SFC win, but Leitrim prevailed in extra time, kicking the last four scores to win 0-19 to 1-15.
As we went to print at lunchtime on Monday the Louth Ladies and the Louth Minors were preparing for important fixtures. The Ladies were in Birr to face Wicklow in the NFL Division 4 Final, while the Under-17s were up against the Dubs in Parnell Park in the first of their five round-robin matches.