Pats let big provincial scalp slip on day for ducks
They may be the undisputed Lords of Louth, but St Patrick's quest to conquer lands beyond their own manor came to a familiar, sticky end on Sunday afternoon.
Ballyboden 1-8 St Patrick's 0-7
They looked every bit a match for Dublin champions Ballyboden St Enda's and were in the game right up until the final few minutes, but ultimately a cheap goal, laid up on a plate to Colm Basquel, proved the difference on a day for ducks at the Gaelic Grounds.
The near misses on the provincial stage are beginning to pile up for Pats.
They ran another Dublin heavyweight, St Brigid's, ever so close in 2003, took Portlaoise to extra-time in 2011 and even recorded a rare victory over Rhode a year later, before bowing out to Sarsfields in Newbridge.
The big breakthrough has thus far eluded the seven-time Louth champs, but this could have been it.
Ballyboden arrived in Drogheda as red-hot 1/7 favourites, but it was scarcely obvious throughout a very tight and delicately balanced clash and with a bit more poise in the final third Pat's might easily have pulled off a 'shock'.
Ballyboden were without star forward Ryan Basquel, but Pats had to field without one of their talismen, Ray Finnegan - both players coincidentally sidelined by serious jaw fractures.
It was probably just as well that they sat it out as the muddy and slippy conditions made for a hard-hitting contest with no punches pulled.
Pats certainly gave as good as they got, and then some.
They looked stronger defensively and held sway in midfield for long periods, with Eoin O'Connor and Eamonn Breen well on top of Michael Dara Macauley and Declan O'Mahoney, who was withdrawn at half-time.
That allowed Paddy Keenan to operate slightly more advanced than he would on the domestic scene, but most of that good work came undone in the final third as mis-placed passes and poor decision-making strangled numerous chances to hurt what looked like a vulnerable Ballyboden defence.
Having opened a three-point lead inside 12 minutes, through Karl White (2) and Keenan, Pat's passed up three further promising opportunities with cheap turnovers.
And that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the contest as Ballyboden grew emboldened by Pat's failure to pick them off when they were on top.
The Dubs gradually found their feet against a stiff breeze and they cut the gap to the minimum with points from Conal Keaney and Andrew Kerrin.
Kerrin then hauled them level in the 25th minute, but all the while Pat's just weren't ruthless enough at the other end.
With Daniel O'Connor operating in a more withdrawn role than normal, Conor Grogan and Karl White got very little change out of a tight Ballyboden full back line.
O'Connor did make it 0-4 to 0-3 just before the break with a fine point, but it was a failure to push on in the second quarter that would come back to haunt Pat's.
The wind dropped a few knots as half-time approached, but Ballyboden still seemed to have it firmly in their sails at the start of the second period in what proved to be a match-winning burst.
Referee, Patrick Murtagh appeared to miss a pretty cleat foul in the build-up to their equalising point, which itself came from a Kerrin free.
But Pat's had no-one to blame but themselves for the goal.
Sean Connor's kick-out fell short of its intended target Patrick Kirk, who hesitated ever so slightly and let Darren O'Brien steal in to win possession. He beat a couple of men, which made the angle tight, but he was able to pick out Basquel, who slotted to the top corner from close range.
It was the first time Pat's trailed, and they couldn't close the gap any tighter than two points as a couple of hard-won frees, converted by Paddy Keenan were cancelled out by Kerrin, also from dead balls.
Crucially, Pat's didn't manage to score from play in the second-half, but they seemed to grab a late lifeline when Keenan latched onto a quick free and drilled a brilliant left-footed finish to the top corner.
The referee ruled it out and to be fair to the match official he was facing the opposite direction as Pat's made a late substitution.
With that Pat's hopes of clawing something out of the contest evaporated and they had visibly given up the ghost when Conal Keaney swung over a brace of late points in injury-time.
In the context of past failings on the provincial stage it was a particularly hard one to take for the Louth champions.
A big scalp seemed to be there for the taking, but the belief and knowhow to pull it off was lacking when it mattered.
The provincial stage is as unforgiving as the weather it is played in and only the ruthless and clinical survive.
Pat's have been learning that the hard way over the past decade or so.
Leinster is their new yardstick, but they will have to wait at least another 12 months to see if they can finally measure up.
BALLYBODEN ST ENDA'S: Conor Dooley; Bob Dwan, Stephen Hiney, Shane Clayton; Stephen O'Connor, Darragh Nelson, Aran Waters; Michael Dara Macauley, Declan O'Mahoney; Darren O'Reilly, Colm Basquel 1-0, Sean Gibbons; Sam Molony, Conal Keaney 0-3, Andrew Kerin 0-5 (4f). Subs: Donagh McCabe for O'Mahoney (ht), Robbie McDaid for O'Connor (40), Daniel Davy for Gibbons (47), Conor McCormack for Molony (50), Shane Durkin for O'Reilly (54).
ST PATRICK'S: Sean Connor; Kevin Toner, Darren O'Hanlon, Patrick Kirk; Eoghan Lafferty, Dessie Finnegan, Owen Zamboglou; Eamonn Breen, Eoin O'Connor; Aidan McCann, Paddy Keenan 0-4 (3f), Daniel O'Connor 0-1; Karl White 0-2, Darragh Lafferty, Conor Grogan. Subs: Ross Murphy for Zamboglou (52), Alan O'Connor for D Lafferty (60).
REFEREE: Patrick Maguire (Longford).