Monday 21 January 2019

Plenty for Pete to ponder as Reds chase first victory

John Savage

What a difference a year makes! Almost 12 months to the day since Louth stormed Semple Stadium to clinch promotion to Division 2, their now inevitable return to the third tier could well be rubber-stamped at the famous old venue this Sunday.

Barring a miracle, it does now seem a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' the trapdoor opens on Pete McGrath's side, and defeat against Tipperary, coupled with a win for either Meath or Clare would confirm it.

Three wins from their last three games probably would still be enough to trigger a great escape, but on current form that's practically a mission impossible for the Reds. Last week's heavy snow granted McGrath and his players a stay of execution of sorts, but perhaps more importantly it afforded all concerned an opportunity to take stock after four demoralising defeats.

The step up from Division 3 - and Division 4 just two years ago - has been more like a giant leap and, despite acquiring the services of a former All-Ireland winner, changing managers mid-journey did not help.

Colin Kelly's departure last summer was acrimonious, but after back-to-back promotions the current Westmeath boss could have forgiven for feeling the only way was down this term.

We'll never know if Kelly would have fared any better, but you have to imagine that the continuity alone would have been an advantage in the shark-infested waters of Division 2.

Despite his vast experience, McGrath was thrown straight in at the deep end and the second tier is an unforgiving environment when you're learning on the job.

With their league status now all but gone, the former Down supremo will already be switching his attention to the championship, which kicks off against Carlow in mid-May In the meantime McGrath will be looking for a vast improvement over the next three games as realistically the only thing that will save his maiden season from an 'F' will be a summer scalp or two.

Here's five deficiencies the manager and his players will be keen to address over the next three games and into the summer.

Slow starts

Last time out Roscommon had five points on the board before Louth finally got off the mark in the 15th minute. They managed to claw the gap back to three, but five points is just too big a head-start for a team of the Rossies' calibre.

And it has been a familiar theme this spring with Cork running up a 1-8 to 0-2 first-half lead in Pairc Ui Rinn and Cavan storming to a 0-8 to 0-2. Even Down managed to prise out a more modest 0-7 to 0-4 cushion in what was a much closer game on the opening day of the season.

Hot streaks

Another common theme in the Reds' displays has been a tendency to switch off just when they appear to be gaining a foothold in games.

Perhaps it's merely a case of superior opponents hitting a hot streak, but on a number of occasions Louth have battled their way back into games only to be blown away in a matter of minutes. Down plundered 1-2 without reply in the second-half to settle the opening game of the campaign and Cork gobbled up 1-4 before half-time next time out.

After working hard to reel Cavan back in the Reds coughed up 1-4 again without reply in Kingspan Breffni. Then, having reduced Roscommon's lead to three points, Kevin McStay's men were able to pick off 1-3 to no reply.

If the Reds want to compete with top, or even mid-rank teams, they will have to find a way to batten down the hatches and stay in games.

Soft centre

The Reds have just been too easy to break down so far this season. Teams with strong, powerful runners have been able to fill their boots. McGrath has deployed a kind of half sweeper similar to last season, but overall the Reds haven't defended as deeply as they did last season and better opposition have taken advantage of that. 

Goal drought

While they've conceded at least a goal in every game, Louth haven't managed to raise a green flag in almost 300 minutes of action. They haven't been clinical enough when they have managed to carve teams open, but perhaps of more concern to McGrath will be the lack of clear-cut opportunities created. Good teams will create and take chances against you, so you have to be doing the same.

Scores from play

Points from play have proven as hard to come by as goals for the Reds. They managed six from play out of 11 against Down, but only kicked eight in total against Cavan and Cork. Against the Rebels they managed a paltry three points form general play despite dominating the second period.

Last time out against Roscommon they managed nine from play from a final tally of 12 points and McGrath will be hoping that's some kind of turning point.

The Argus