Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rampant Reds put on a hell of a show

John Savage at O'Moore Park

Opening night is normally tense and edgy, but Louth didn't follow the script, producing a spectacular 'Saturday Night Show' under the bright lights of O'Moore Park.

Louth 2-16 Laois 0-10

With the TV cameras rolling, the Reds battered Laois from curtain rise, storming into an eight-point lead by the 24th minute. That cushion was cut back to five at the interval, but another short, sharp, shock early in the second-half ensured a comfortable final quarter en-route to an impressive 12-point victory.

It means Louth steal a march on five other teams in the division as only Tipperary and Longford won their games the following day, while the hefty winning margin will do no harm to that all-important score difference column.

But that's only the nuts and bolts.

What will please Colin Kelly most about Saturday night's rout will be the manner in which his side cut Laois open time and again, and then limited Peter Creedon's side to just 10 points on their home patch.

Kelly wanted an improvement in the final third, both in shot-selection and execution, so he must have been happy to hear that his troops didn't kick so much as a single wide in the opening half.

Laois almost made up for it, clocking up eight misses before the break, 12 in total, and perhaps crucially they were particularly wasteful in the opening quarter when they arguably started the brighter team.

But when Louth found their groove, there was just no stopping them.

They had three points on the board by the 12th minute, and they were the kind of scores that suggested there were goals on the menu too as Laois struggled to contain Louth's slick and incisive running game.

It seemed only a matter of time before the creaking dam was breached and another lightning-fast move involving Jim McEneaney, Paraic Smith and Anthony Williams released Smith behind the cover. The Dreadnots man calmly slotted a neat finish to make it 1-3 to 0-1 after 17 minutes.

Smith was superb in that opening half. In a withdrawn role, he linked superbly with McEneaney and Ryan Burns, capitalising on the dynamic duos dominance in the top line.

McEneaney also roamed outfield to orchestrate, and with Tommy Durnin, Bevan Duffy, Andy McDonnell and Ruairi Moore surging from deep, at times the Laois defence didn't seem to know whether to stick or twist.

They were run almost ragged by the 25th minute as Burns, from a free, Duffy, Smith and McDonnell extended Louth's lead to 1-7 to 0-2, with Donie Kingston kicking both of the home side's points.

Loais did gain a tenuous foothold before the break, cutting the eight-point margin back to five, 1-8 to 0-6, but that seemed to be as much down to Louth taking a breather and sitting back for a spell.

It certainly wasn't any kind of precursor to a second-half fightback from the home side.

Duffy opened the scoring to extend Louth's lead to six and the St Fechin's man missed an open goal five minutes later, albeit from 20 metres out and with a few bodies between him and the target.

Nevertheless Louth continued to dominate and the second goal did arrive on 51 minutes with Smith and Moore combining to set up McDonnell, who ghosted in behind the Loais full back line and made no mistake with his finish.

2-11 to 0-7 - it was game, set and match to the visitors with a full 20 minutes to play.

But Louth continued to press, while in defence they turned over countless Laois attacks.

But the O'Moore men lost all direction and hope when Colm Begley received his marching orders on foot of a second yellow card.

If Louth really wanted to they probably could have given their score difference even more of a boost, but in a game that most pundits felt could swing either way by a point or two, 12 was more than enough.

It will take a few weeks to determine just how bad Laois were, and on this evidence they may already be on a slippery slope.

But there was no doubting how good Colin Kelly's troops were on the night and in particular, the manager will be delighted with how his team responded to the mis-firing first-half display they produced in the O'Byrne Cup final defeat to Dublin.

Longford are up next on a heavier and tighter surface at the Gaelic Grounds and with the midlanders starting off with a win over Offaly, Kelly should not have to warn his players against complacency.

He will be quick to remind them that after starting with two wins from three outings a couple of years ago, Louth's campaign hit the rocks in dreadful fashion.

But the Reds certainly weren't moving like this back in Kelly's first year at the helm and the competition for places in his team was certainly nowhere near as intense as it is now.

If stage fright doesn't take hold, we could be settling in for a blockbuster.

LOUTH: Craig Lynch; Padraig Rath, Patrick Reilly, Kevin Carr; Derek Maguire, Liam Dullaghan, Anthony Williams 0-2; Tommy Durnin 0-2, Andy McDonnell 1-1; James Stewart, Paraic Smith 1-4, Bevan Duffy 0-2; Ruairi Moore 0-1, Jim McEnaney, Ryan Burns 0-3 (2f). Subs: Conall McKeever for B Duffy (57), Ronan Holcroft for R Moore (59), Derek Crilly for J McEneaney (59), John Bingham for J Stewart (66), Sam Mulroy for R Burns (66), Ross Nally 0-1f for P Smith (62).

LAOIS: Graham Brody; Alan Farrell, Denis Booth, James Kelly; Stephen Attride 0-1, E Buggie, Colm Begley; Kevin Meaney, Darren Strong; Danny Luttrell 0-1, Ambrose Doran 0-1, Niall Donoher; Eoin Lowry, Donie Kingston 0-6 (4f), David Conway. Subs: Gary Walsh 0-1 for D Luttrell (ht), P McMahon for J Kelly (42), Ross Munnelly for E Lowry (45), Daniel O'Reilly for K Meaney (50), P Kingston for A Doran (52), Kieran Lillis 0-1 for D Conway (61).

Referee: John Hickey (Carlow).

Irish Independent

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