Reds draw positives from dress rehearsal
Bord na Mona O'Byrne Cup: Longford 1-16 Louth 1-16
After a stormy start to his tenure, the short-range forecast is looking a bit brighter for Wayne Kierans' Louth.
A draw in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday wasn't enough to secure another competitive outing next weekend, but the second-half performance, coupled with a morale-boosting win over Wicklow between Christmas and New Year, have definitely helped to shift some of the dark clouds of 2018.
If nothing else, the Reds should welcome Longford to Drogheda on Sunday fortnight with a certain amount of confidence.
With their Mullinalaghta contingent otherwise engaged, the midlanders are starting the season without up to half of their first-choice XV, so there really couldn't be a better time to face a side that have proved something of a nemesis for Louth in recent years.
But while Padraic Davis has to play the hand he's been dealt for at least another few weeks, Wayne Kierans has plenty of options to explore between now and January 27th.
The changes the rookie boss made at half-time in Pearse Park certainly improved Louth's shape and purpose in the second period as they wiped out a six-point deficit. And with the likes of Ryan Burns, Derek Maguire, Emmet Carolan, Cian Callan and Andy McDonnell not even in the matchday squad, Kierans is facing a few welcome selection headaches.
Based on their second-half cameos, Conor Early and Conor Branigan will be pressing hard for starting berths, and those changes also allowed Bevan Duffy to drop back to centre half back and Declan Byrne to push into the full forward line.
That all added up to a much-improved showing from the visitors, who may even have snatched a win in the closing stages.
That possibly would have been harsh on a Longford side that dominated the opening half.
Luckily for Davis, Robbie Smyth and Darren Gallagher are not from the 'half parish' and with talent like that in their ranks the midlanders will always be in with a shout in any game.
Certainly, Louth will have to come up with a better plan to curb Smyth's influence next time around and overall they will have to make life harder for a Longford attack that racked up 1-12 in the first-half.
A repeat of their second-half display would be a good start, as they managed to limit their hosts to just four points after the break.
Who knows, the first-half might even have taken a different course too, had Sam Mulroy managed to keep a rasping drive just millimetres lower, after he burst through on goal in the first minute.
The crossbar came to Longford's rescue, but it was the boys in blue who went on to dominate the opening quarter, easily slicing through a brittle Louth defence time and again.
After Tadhg McEnaney had opened the scoring Longford replied with four points, a brace from Smyth and a point apiece from Shane Donohoe and Peter Lynn, who curiously wore the corner back jerseys, but played at corner and half forward respectively.
A fine, but all too rare, Louth attack yielded a Ciaran Downey point, but Louth hit back immediately through Pauric Gill and Gallagher to extend their lead to four - 0-6 to 0-2.
Louth looked in serious trouble at that stage as the hosts looked like they might open up, but a goal made in Monasterboice and finished in Kilkerley brought and unexpected lifeline.
Some intricate interplay between Sam Mulroy and Eoghan Callaghan in the left corner, sprung the latter clear on goal, but with the shooting angle extremely tight and Longford defenders closing in, the defender kept a cool head, squaring to an unmarked McEnaney for a simple slap to the net.
A couple of minutes later Anthony Williams drew the Reds level, but the revival was short-lived as Longford hit back with three points in as many minutes from Darragh Doherty, Gallagher from a free and Colm Smyth.
The gap hovered around the two-point mark until the 29th minute when Longford netted a similar goal to McEnaney's at the other end, with Lynn slapping home from close range,
When Gallagher and Robbie Smyth added a point apiece the gap was out to seven, but Declan Byrne managed to pull one back before the break.
With unlimited substitutions permitted, Kierans was always going to make changes from half-time onwards, but the four he decided upon at the break certainly paid off.
As well as the impressive displays from Conor Early and Conor Branigan, Conal McKeever kicked a point just after his introduction and Dan Corcoran helped to shore up a leaky rearguard.
But the changes apart, Louth were a transformed team after the interval.
By the 12th minute the gap was back to two points as McKeever, Mulroy, Holcroft and Declan Byrne all converted from play.
Darren Gallagher replied for Longford, but that would turn out to be their only score for a whopping 27 minutes.
In the meantime Mulroy, Jim McEneaney and Mulroy again from a mark completed Louth's comeback as the Reds took the lead for the first time since the third minute, 1-14 to 1-13.
Robbie Smyth dragged Longford back level from a free, but Louth's hopes of booking a semi-final spot were dealt a serious blow when McEneaney was black-carded and sin-binned for a foul on Smyth. McEneaney pleaded his innocence and he appeared to have a point as Smyth seemed to pull the Geraldines man on top of him in order to win the free - a manoeuvre he was penalised for just a few minutes earlier,
To rub salt in Louth wounds Smyth converted the resulting free, but Louth showed plenty of character in the closing stages as Ross Nally drew them level and Byrne did likewise in injury-time, following yet another Smyth point.
The draw was enough to send Longford through to the last four, but Louth - other than missing out on another competitive game - lost very little in the process.
In fact, Wayne Kierans' side may even have the greater scope for improvement between now and the real deal on January 27th.
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum; Darren Quinn, Barry O'Farrell, Colm P Smyth 0-1; Conor Shields, Michael Quinn, Barry McKeon; Darren Gallagher 0-4 (2f), Peter Hanley; Peter Lynn 1-1, Andrew Farrell, Pauric Gill 0-1; Shane Donohoe 0-1, Robbie Smyth 0-6 (3f), Darragh Doherty 0-2. Subs: PJ Masterson for C Shields (56), Liam Connerton for P Gill (56), Cillian Lee for A Farrell (58).
LOUTH: Alan McGauley; Fergal Donohoe, Darren Marks, James Craven; Leonard Grey, Anthony Williams 0-1, Eoghan Callaghan; Bevan Duffy, Tommy Durnin; Ciaran Downey 0-2, Ronan Holcroft 0-1, Declan Byrne 0-4; Niall Conlon, Sam Mulroy 0-3 (1f, 1mk), Tadhg McEnaney 1-2 (1mk). Subs: John Clutterbuck for L Grey (18), Conor Early for E Callaghan (ht), Dan Corcoran for F Donohoe (ht), Conor Branigan for N Conlon (ht), Conall McKeever 0-1 for T McEnaney (ht), Jim McEneaney 0-1 for R Holcroft (43), Eoghan Duffy for C Downey (58), Ross Nally 0-1 for S Mulroy (62).
REFEREE: Fergal Smyth (Offaly).