Sunday 18 March 2018

Louth blow promotion bid as Oak Leaf cope better in wind

Louth Shane Lennon. Photo:Colin Bell/
Louth Shane Lennon. Photo:Colin Bell/

John Savage

A BITING gale force breeze whistling eastwards through the Gaelic Grounds was always going to have a big say in the Division 2 promotion race on Sunday afternoon, and in the end it was the Oak Leaf that hung toughest to keep their Division 1 mission on track.

Despite coping quite well against the elements in the first period, 14-man Louth left themselves with just a little too much to do to reel in their canny visitors, who kept hold of the ball 'Barcelona style' at times in the second period.

The final scoreline probably flattered Brian McIver's men a bit, but Louth could have no real complaints about the result, or Mark Brennan's 50th-minute dismissal (his third in six starts), which undoubtedly took its toll on his collegaues in an energy-sapping finale.

If the wind didn't ruin the game as a spectacle, referee Martin Higgins certainly did his best to, blowing for a mind-boggling 65 frees (40 against Louth) and pausing the game to dish out 13 cards, including Brennan's red. Do games like this really need a referee with another coloured card in his pocket?

Louth couldn't blame the referee for their demise, however - as the saying goes, he was bad for both teams! Trailing by just two points with less than three minutes left in the first half, they shipped three quickfire scores before the interval, and crucially coughed up another two after the restart to leave them chasing a seven-point deficit.

That five-point haul with no reply was the difference for Derry in the end, even though Louth battled bravely to get back on level terms with 10 minutes of normal time remaining.

Ciaran Byrne was the first to reduce the deficit from the right channel and Brian White added a free soon afterwards. However, it was a five-point blitz in as many minutes that really warmed the home support up as Conor Rafferty, Darren Clarke and White all scored from play before Lennon converted a brace of frees to make it 1-12 apiece in the 60th minute.

The smart money would have been on a home win at that stage, but despite going 20 minutes without a score, Derry were the more composed outfit in the closing stages and patiently worked the ball forward to win a couple of late frees which Eoin Bradley converted with ease.

Louth had to throw caution to the wind in the closing seconds, but only succeeded in leaving the back-door ajar at the other end, and when Benny Heron found himself in acres and with only Neil Gallagher to beat, he didn't disappoint a decent travelling support.

Louth fans started to make their exit before Higgins blew his final whistle, creating a small traffic jam in front of the stand, and when the Fermanagh official eventually called it a day, some quick-thinking stewards felt he'd be better advised taking a detour behind the stand on his way back to the dressing room.

No-one was complaining when he awarded an early penalty to Louth, however. Ronan Carroll won the throw-in, fed Ciaran Byrne with a long delivery and as the St Mochta's man shaped to pull the trigger he was hauled to the ground by Aidan McAlynn - a black card offence in 2014, but not even worthy of a yellow in 2013!

Shane Lennon took over spot-kick duties from Brian White and rifled the ball high to Eoin McNicholl's net.

If that penalty call was pretty clear-cut, the same couldn't be said about Derek Crilly's foul on Raymond Wilkinson four minutes later. Higgins saw something, however, and the impressive James Kielt was just as clinical as Lennon had been, sending Gallagher the wrong way.

As expected Derry controlled much of the possession and territory with the wind at their backs, but after pushing on to lead by 1-5 to 1-1 after 10 minutes, they lost their way badly for the next 20 minutes or so.

Louth were definitely the better side in the third quarter as Lennon and Kevin Rogers converted frees and the latter added a point to reduce the gap to just two points.

However, sensing the urgency of the situation Derry rallied late in the half as frees from Eoin Bradley and James Kielt sandwiched a well-worked point from Lee Kennedy to give them a more respectable five-point cushion at the the interval.

The Argus