Saturday 15 December 2018

Mulroy injury a bitter blow

John Savage

While starting his Louth tenure with a defeat was a genuine disappointment for Pete McGrath, it didn't come close to losing Sam Mulroy to a broken ankle in the closing minutes of Saturday's clash with Longford.

'It could be a fractured ankle, which is a big blow to the lad personally,' McGrath revealed within minutes of the final whistle.

'He's a fine footballer and you know, at this stage it's a blow to us because he's big, he's strong, he's robust. Hopefully it's not [broken], but that's what the medical men think it is.' In a three-team group defeat on Saturday almost certainly rules Louth out of contention for a semi-final spot, but McGrath is more concerned about giving players game time and making improvements for Wednesday night's trip to Hawkfield to take on Division 1 outfit Kildare.

'Of course it will be tough, but it's also an opportunity to look at other players, look at what people can do, make an assessment. 

'That's what this competition is for, it's all about driving towards the first National League match against Down. So there is work to be done and certainly Kildare on Wednesday night will be challenging.

'If we'd won today, going down there you would have been in a better place, but we are where we are and we will learn from today. Talk about it, go forward and hopefully be that bit better on Wednesday night.'

McGrath hopes to welcome back Gerard McSorley and Conor Early for the clash with the Lilywhites, while looking further ahead the likes of James Stewart, Anthony Williams, Declan Byrne and Ryan Burns will come back into the reckoning and McGrath conceded that the Reds will need all hands on deck.

'I think they're a group of players who are looking forward to the challenge, but some of them just may not yet realise what is needed in terms of the level that they need to be training to and working to for Division 2, against the Corks of this world, the Meaths of this world, Tipperarys of this world. 

'Today's game I think will be for the players, as well as us, a kind of a ... I wouldn't call it a wake up call, but an insight into the intensity and the pace.

'What we need over the next four weeks is to get the work done to ensure that our performance against Down is up there at the level it should be at and that it is consistent over the 70 minutes.'

McGrath's main bone of contention was the number of attacking turnovers his team coughed up, and if Longford are capable of punishing them Louth's Division 2 rivals will be even more ruthless.

'The amount of turnovers in our forward line certainly has to be worked on and put to bed. If you're turned over that often in a match, it's like writing a long suicide note. You're putting yourself under serious, serious pressure, which we did.

'When we came back to draw-match, we certainly were on top and I thought we would have had the momentum to go on and maybe get the win. But then they went right through the middle of our defence for the second goal and I think they tagged on a quick point. So it left us really with an uphill battle. 

'But we're happy with the way we played when we launched that comeback. The first half, you would have been very unhappy with the number of times that we lost the ball while attacking inside their 35-40 metre line and we dropped a lot short. 

'But I come back to the fact that Longford got six points in the first half from us losing possession in our attack, and countering and knocking the ball over the bar. So that was disappointing.

'We talked about that and I think we did put it right in the second half. First game of the season, yeah it would have been nice to win it, but for me personally it's about seeing the players, seeing what they can do, getting a handle on what the capabilities are and trying to edge towards what we think will be our strongest team for the start of the National League in four weeks' time.'

While he had some sympathy for his defence on Saturday given the number of counter-attacks Longford were allowed to launch from cheap turnover possession, McGrath admitted he will have to pay special attention to his defence in the coming weeks and months.

'I would say at this stage, we have a bit of work to do defensively. We think that maybe in terms of forwards, we are well enough endowed, but defensively we're just a wee bit short at the moment and we'll have to be looking at maybe different options.'

He explored one such option on Saturday, starting Bevan Duffy at centre half back, and he hinted that it could be a permanent move.

'Bevan's a strong, physical player and I certainly feel we're going to need physicality in our defence for Division 2, because it's a tough division. [We'll be] up against some very big physically strong teams and if we don't get a bit of physicality into our defence, we could be in serious difficulties.'

McGrath confirmed that Padraig Rath has ruled himself out of contention, certainly for the early part of the season, and he conceded that will be a big blow. Fitness is another area McGrath plans to pay special attention to in the coming weeks, but time is on his side in that respect.

'We're maybe not as fit as we should be, but when that is dealt with, I'd like to think that they'll all be capable of playing better and keep the thing going for a more sort of consistent effort over the course of the 70 minutes.

'Fitness isn't the bee all and end all. We have things to look at in terms of our team play, in terms of our shape, in terms of our transition, in terms of retaining the ball when we get it forward and not being turned over to the extent that we were today.

'All those things have to be worked on. To an extent, they're fitness related because when you are fit you can do all those things better. So there's a lot of work to be done. There's a lot of boxes still to be ticked and I like to think that over the next four weeks, with the matches that we have and the challenging schedule, that we will put right some of the things that weren't up to scratch today.'

The Argus