Kierans encouraged by Louth's O'Byrne Cup performances
Louth may have narrowly missed out on an O'Byrne Cup semi-final spot, but rookie manager Wayne Kierans is encouraged by what he's seen from his young squad over the past month.
The Reds started with a disappointing defeat to Wexford in Darver, but they bounced back with a win over Wicklow in Bray and then came from six points down at half-time to force a draw in Longford last Saturday, in a dress rehearsal for the Allianz League opener between the sides on Sunday fortnight.
With unlimited substitutions allowed in the pre-season tournament, Kierans has dished out plenty of game-time over the three matches and when a couple of challenge games are also taken into a account, he feels there’s an interesting and healthy battle for jerseys.
‘There’s a number of lads putting their hands up,’ he said. ‘They’re getting fitter and more in tune with what we want them to do. Some of the younger players found it tough today, but it’s all a learning curve for them.
‘Looking at the O’Byrne Cup as a whole you’d be happy that you have given a lot of players game-time, got some of our principles across and we’ve had some good performances. There’s some stuff we’ll undoubtedly have to improve on but it sets us up nicely for a couple of weeks time.’
Louth needed to win to pip Longford to a semi-final showdown with Westmeath, and Kierans would have liked an extra competitive game, but he insists there’s plenty to be getting on with regardless.
‘We’ll definitely have one challenge game and a good body of training done before the Longford game, but we’re progressing nicely. There’s still an awful lot of work to do, but we’re only together a couple of months and you have a new regime, new ideas, new players. But it’s positive.
‘There’s still places up for grabs for the national league opener without a doubt. Some lads have moved ahead today and some have fallen a little bit behind, but in challenge games and training there will be toing and froing and lads going in and out.
‘We certainly don’t have a definitive XV yet and there’s three weeks to go so it’s up to the lads now to force their way in. And you’re really talking about forcing your way into a 26, never mind the 15 because we have some good options there.
‘But that’s exactly what you want. We made more changes today before and during the game and that’s what the O’Byrne Cup is all about. You have unlimited subs, so you use them and you want lads to make an impact, and they certainly did that today. So lads have had a lot of game time between the O’Byrne Cup and the couple of challenges we’ve played so the only disappointment is that we don’t have that extra competitive game, that’s the downside of not getting the win today. But we’ll get more game time before we play Longford for real!’
It was a game of two halves from the manager’s point of view as Louth recovered from a terrible start.
‘First-half poor, second-half a lot better,’ Kierans agreed. ‘It wasn’t just enough to get the win, but we keep talking about performance at this time of year, so if you’re summing it up the first-half performance wasn’t any where near good enough and the second-half was a lot better and very encouraging.
‘For the last couple of minutes we were down a man and that didn’t help, but at half-time I was confident enough that we would up our performance bigtime in the second-half and we did that. There were a few personnel changes and they certainly had an impact and so did the lads who came during the second-half, so all that’s pleasing too.
‘Towards the end of the game, we were a man down, as I said, but I was very impressed with the way we forced the equalising point. It was nice patient play and we got a good shooter [Declan Byrne] on the ball.’
But the second-half display was in stark contrast to the first period, however and Kierans insists it’s something Louth will have to work on.
‘They had far too much space building their attacks and they had a real dangerous guy inside in Robbie Smyth. We knew all about him so it was far too easy for them. We didn’t have any shape at the back and we didn’t transition properly. We spoke about that at half-time and made a couple of personnel changes and it was a lot, lot better and I think it was 0-10 to 0-4 in the second-half. We spoke at the end about not giving teams six points of a head start.’