Saturday 24 March 2018

O'Rourke welcomes Lilywhite challenge

John Savage

AIDAN O'Rourke is relishing the prospect of taking on his old mates in Kildare on Saturday week, after Louth were handed a tough second round Qualifier test on Monday morning.

'I kind of figured it was going to be Kildare or Down,' joked the Reds chief, who spent time as a coach in both counties under Kieran McGeeney and James McCartan.

O'Rourke admitted he was 'straight onto the phone' to McGeeney after the draw was made, but that is probably as far as the pleasantries will go over the next two weeks as Louth bid to topple the Lilywhites for the third time in three Championship meetings.

The clash was subsequently fixed for St Conleth's Park on Saturday 13 July at 7pm and putting the setting and the novelty of returning to his old stomping ground to one side, O'Rourke feels it's a good draw for Louth.

'We're happy enough with it. There were other possibilities that might have given us a better chance of progressing to the next round, but we feel we're making steady progress this year and at some stage you have stand up and test yourself against one of the big teams. We'll be outsiders in many people's eyes, but it's a game we believe we can win.'

Even with a two-week break, Kildare's confidence is bound to have taken a severe hit against Dublin on Sunday as the All-Ireland favourites over-turned an early five-point deficit to win by a whopping 16 points.

Louth on the other hand will head to Newbridge with a Qualifier victory under their belt after disposing of Antrim in Drogheda on Saturday afternoon.

The Reds led from start to finish, but it was far from pretty, and the Saffrons did pose the hosts some serious problems in the first half and midway through the second.

For O'Rourke, it was all about the result, however.

'I suppose we won't over-analyse the mistakes,' he said. 'First-round Qualifiers are always the same, everyone was very nervous on both sides, so it was just about getting over the line and building a bit of confidence - anytime you win a Qualifier by six points it's a good day's work irrespective of how you achieve it.'

Louth were in a no-win situation against side who had been relegated from Division 3 and roundly criticised for their approach to their Ulster SFC clash with Monaghan, but O'Rourke felt that just made the task all the more difficult for his side.

'The biggest difficulty in the build-up to the game was the perception that Antrim were this awful team. I work in Antrim and know a lot of the players and I kow that's not the case. They did have a poor outing in the first round against a good Monaghan team, so we knew there would be a kickback. They did miss chances in the first-half but I felt we were disciplined in the tackle and to an extent we allowed them to shoot under pressure as opposed to fouling.

'Antrim showed a lot of good character, as did the Louth players when the game did turn. When the goal went in you were thinking of some of the League games where the momentum turned against us and we didn't have the wherewithal to turn it back, but there was some fantastic composure shown and a special word for Ronan Carroll in that regard, I thought he really stood up and showed fantastic leadership and kicked a couple of crucial points.

'Both Ronan and Ray Finnegan did really well and it was great to have their experience when the game was in the melting pot.'

O'Rourke agreed that there is plenty to work on ahead of Saturday week's trip to Newbridge, but he insisted this victory will stand to his troops.

'Overall I felt that if we took our chances we would have won a lot more comfortably.

'Every day there is a lot to work on. But that's the nature of the Qualifiers, there's always mistakes and nerves and lads feeling a bit insecure, but a win always helps to rectify that.'

The victory was marred somewhat by Neil Gallagher's late red card.

'I've no idea what happened with Neil. He and the umpire were disputing a point and, unfortunately, the umpire holds the trump card in those situations. It's disappointing but we'll just have to get on with it.'

The Argus