Tuesday 23 July 2019

Louth limp to depressing exit

The Championship: Antrim 2-16 Louth 1-11

Dan Bannon at the Gaelic Grounds

This is becoming an all too familiar scene, a Louth team trudging off after a disappointing championship exit.

The supporters, the ones who show up, don't even bother to boo at the final whistle or let the players coming off the field know that losing is not acceptable.

The dissenting voices were sadly silent and there weren't even grumbles around Drogheda. All that could be heard was the sound of jubilation coming from a minibus load of Antrim supporters who joyfully ran onto the Gaelic Grounds pitch to lavish their players with their joy.

A joy we can only imagine, where taking joy in victory means something more than the victory itself. A win where representing your county is on the line and means something more than a game of football, a win that lifts the morale of an entire county.

A championship win in the Qualifiers is on a national level, it illustrates where you are on the GAA food chain. The league is now being raised in status to deflect attention away from the apathy that is sucking the life out of inter-county football.

The league is apparently our competition, our priority.

With Championship structures the way they are, the league is becoming more and more of a cover-up and that is worrying.

On wet pitches with a slower pace in terrible conditions we can kid ourselves, but the trend is worrying.

Louth have dipped off the scale. Picking up wins against Division 4 teams or marginally above in the summer is all we have to show for, in nearly a decade of Championship football. qualifier or provincial.

Where is the pride in where we come from?

Where is the boost in morale going to come from? Simply, where is the passion?

The Antrim defeat was the cherry on top of a horrible week for Louth Gaelic games.

The week that was in it, the Juniors threw away a Leinster semi-final, the U-20s got another pasting and even our hurlers got relegated.

Bizarrely, mid-way through the first half this result didn't look like it was coming whatsoever. After Ryan Murray opened a two-point lead for Antrim, Louth controlled the game.

Blues duo Andy McDonnell and Ciaran Downey soon levelled and as the rain poured so did more Louth scores.

Declan Byrne and Bevan Duffy landed points, with Ryan Burns opening his account with a free. McDonnell finished off the consecutive scoring run with a palmed effort after Sam Mulroy notched yet another assist.

Then, just like a house of cards in the wind, Louth's season was about to come to a tumbling end - and it was all their own doing.

The Antrim number 11 and player with the greatest ability on the field, Matthew Fitzpatrick, made hay when Louth lost the ball up the field, punishing them with goals in the 20th and 25th minutes which were well taken, but preventable.

The slightest of slights, mid game, provided Louth with an out - and an out it duly took.

The county's fragility was summed up in a nutshell and the lack of grit was embarrassing really.

Lenny Harbinson's men went on to claim a one-point advantage, 2-5 to 1-7, at half time, with Murray sneaking the Saffrons into a lead they would easily defend.

The second half became a drunken blur of self-woe, everyone wanting to go home to be mollycoddled by their clubs.

Eoghan Duffy came on and rattled the post at the start of the half, but as Louth manager Wayne Kierans even alluded to post-match, if it did go in the goal wouldn't have made a difference.

Louth scored only four points in the second period, to the visitors' eleven.

Antrim were running on pride at this stage, with crisp, well-taken points from all over the field.

Corner back Patrick McCormick and midfielder Colum Duffin (two) landed scores, and even from the bench Ruairí Scott contributed a fine two-point cameo when introduced.

The misery was compounded for Louth in the dying minutes when goalkeeper Fergal Sheekey and Declan Byrne were dismissed within minutes of each other.

So the final whistle blew on what is now normality for Louth football, an eight-point summer defeat that nobody will dare speak of again.

By the time the glorious red Louth jersey is worn once more, it will be the O'Byrne Cup and all this will be forgotten about.

LOUTH: Fergal Sheekey; Dan Corcoran, Fergal Donohoe, James Craven; Anthony Williams, Bevan Duffy 0-1, John Clutterbuck 0-1; Tommy Durnin 0-1, James Califf; Andy McDonnell 1-1, Declan Byrne 0-2, Conall McKeever 0-1; Ciaran Downey, Sam Mulroy, Ryan Burns 0-2 (2f). Subs: Eoghan Duffy for McDonnell (HT), Conor Early for Califf (48), Ronan Holcroft for Downey (49), Emmet Carolan 0-1 for Craven (56), Craig Lynch for Clutterbuck (58), Conor Grimes for Mulroy (58).

ANTRIM: Padraig Nugent; Patrick McCormick 0-1, Ricky Johnston, Patrick Gallagher; Paddy McBride 0-3 (1f), Declan Lynch, Niall Delargy 0-1; Colum Duffin 0-2, Stephen Beatty; James McAuley, Matthew Fitzpatrick 2-1, Kevin Quinn; Ryan Murray 0-6 (1f), Michael McCarry (Conor Murray h-t), Eunan Walsh. Subs: Ryan McNulty for McAuley (5), Conor Murray for McCarry (HT), Ruairi Scott 0-2 for Beatty (49), Fintan Burke for Quinn (64), James Smith for Duffifn (68), Patrick Branagan for Delargy (70 +2).

The Argus