Monday 19 November 2018

McGrath facing a mammoth task to lift troops for Cork

John Savage

Pete McGrath insists that his Louth players will have to learn fast to avoid an instant return to Division 3 this spring.

But in the wake of a comprehensive 13-point defeat to Cavan on Saturday night, the Down legend believes survival is certainly not beyond his troops. 

The Reds have lost their opening two games in the second tier to Ulster opposition in Down and Cavan, but there'll be bigger fish circling over the next seven weeks as Roscommon and Meath visit Drogheda, alongside trips to Cork, Tipperary and Clare.

It's an increasingly daunting agenda and McGrath admitted that his team will need to harvest at least six points from a possible 10 to have any hope of staying up.

'These players have to learn, they have to learn that at this level of football you have to be at it all the time,' he said after Saturday's defeat to Cavan in Kingspan Breffni.

'Mistakes will be punished and opportunities that you get and carve out have to be taken.

'But we are where we are and I've spoken to the players and we have to look at things that need to improve. They have to take responsibility, as a management team we have to take responsibility and we've got seven-days to go to Cork. We have five matches left to play, six-points could keep you in this division, so if we win three of those we could stay up and that has to be our target.'

But after two games against two of the supposedly lower ranked teams in the division, Louth already have a score difference of -19, and while they were in with a shout in the Down game for long spells, they barely raised a whimper against Cavan.

The home side raced into an six-point lead and although Louth rallied before the break, they failed to score from open play in the second-half until sub Ciaran Downey saved further blushes in the fourth minute of injury-time.

'Obviously, the scoreboard tells its own story, it's a heavy defeat,' McGrath conceded.

'We came in at half-time two points behind and on the front foot. We scored first in the second-half and then Cavan had a quick flurry of three points and when they got their first goal it was twofold because we had a mountain to climb and their confidence and energy seemed to go up a gear. We struggled to stay on their coattails and the longer the second half went on the more difficult it became for us.

'All over the field [our] players were struggling to cope. In fairness to Cavan they played good football, they were well drilled and they had a fluidity about them. In the first-half when the game was open, they didn't kick many wides.

'In that first-half, particularly the first 20-minutes, our big downfall was the number of times that our attacks were being turned over, giving the ball away or hitting it into the goalkeeper's hands. 

'A very high percentage of our attacks were quite easily turned over and quite often it was our own decision-making or bad execution, and they were hitting us hard on the counter-attack. 'But when we stopped making those mistakes and got in closer and got that run of points, our game became what it should be.

'But that third-quarter, when they got that flurry of points to go from one ahead to four ahead it ended the game as a contest.'

The fact that it was a game McGrath felt Louth could win beforehand, and even at half-time, added salt to open wounds.

'If you had asked me at half-time, can you win this match, I would have said yes, we can win it. One thing I would have been certain of is that we would be there in the last 10-minutes, but it didn't turn out that way and that kind of implosion in that third-quarter when we let Cavan get away and made mistakes, that was the most disappointing aspect.'

But with a trip to Pairc Ui Rinn coming up this Sunday there will no time for is self pity.

'We will resume training on Tuesday night and get at it again. Between now and then, the management has to look at what has to be done to try and improve the collective effort and look at what skills need to be worked on to get the players up to the required level.

'I said to the players this is senior, inter-county football and there were things that went on out there tonight that weren't good and they have to realise that, and be prepared to hear that and accept that they're the only people who can put that right. That's what we're going to be working towards over the next seven-days,' he added.

Drogheda Independent