Sunday 16 December 2018

Sink or swim for Louth in Rebel country

John Savage

After back-to-back promotions, the big fear was that Louth might be out of their depth in Division 2 this season, and after just two outings the Reds are already treading water.

With six points a realistic survival target, a third straight defeat in Cork next Sunday would make the quest to stay afloat a near impossible task.

Pete McGrath's men have five games to rescue the mission, but with Roscommon, Tipperary, Meath and Clare to come after Cork, it's difficult to see where three wins will come from.

Louth lost to Down by six on the opening day and Cork had the same margin to spare in Newry on Sunday, so they'll be overwhelming favourites in Pairc Ui Rinn.

To further tip the scales in the Rebels' favour, they host a team at a particularly low ebb after a demoralising defeat against Cavan on Saturday night.

Apart from a fleeting spell before half-time at Kingspan Breffni, the visitors were comprehensively outplayed and could have no complaints about the defeat or its severity.

Cavan were fluent, lively and clinical, but too many of Louth's wounds were self-inflicted and all too familiar, for that matter.

Louth's big deficiencies during Colin Kelly's his first year in office were cheap turnovers and a soft centre and both ailments have returned with a vengeance this season.

Cavan raced into a 0-8 to 0-2 lead, but most of their scores started with Louth surrendering possession way too easily in promising attacking positions. And in the second-half, the hosts seemed to waltz through the heart of the Reds' defence pretty much at will.

The Louth players certainly won't need a DVD review to pinpoint the problems and team captain Andy McDonnell identified them straight after the game. 'It was a number of things, but silly errors was one of the main issues,' conceded the Newtown Blues man.

'In good attacking positions we seemed to be turned over way too easily and with everyone committed [to attack] we left holes open. That was exposed there tonight with the three goals in the second half, two of them were just straight down the middle.'

Like most supporters the manner of the defeat seemed to take McDonnell by surprise. Louth had one good spell in the run-in to half-time, but Cavan had everything their own way before and after that purple patch and McDonnell was at a loss to explain Louth's lethargy. 

'It was an emphatic defeat in the end. We were well in it at half-time, 8-2 down and got it back to two, Jim [McEneaney] kicked a lovely free just before half-time to close it to two. So we felt we could go out and get a result in the second-half, but it wasn't to be. Like the Down match last week we kicked the first score [after half-time] but I don't know what happened after that. 

'We played for 15 minutes and showed what we could do. But we were very flat-footed at the start and [the players] have to be held accountable. Too many silly things like fist passing to the ground and to feet instead of the chest, myself included. That kills momentum and we were turned over a lot and they picked off scores from our errors in the attacking third.'

The second-half collapse was even more puzzling for supporters, players and management alike.

'It's hard to take being a point down after 37 minutes and losing by 13. We thought we were well in it and we played some nice football at the end of the first-half, but mistakes kill you at this level. These are good teams, it's not Division 3 or 4 where you might get away with things, this is Cavan and Down and they'll punish you in a way that some of the weaker opposition can't.

'But we need to do something about teams getting a run on us. Down scored 1-2 to pull clear and Cavan racked up 1-4 tonight. It's not good enough and we need to do something to counteract it. It's the players' responsibility, it has nothing to do with management. It's about player accountability and hopefully we'll be able to rectify it.'

As team captain one of McDonnell's jobs is to keep the good side out and help lift morale for the challenges ahead and he insisted the Reds won't be throwing in the towel.

'We have a good panel here and it's about putting the hard work in on Tuesday and Friday and being ready for Cork on Sunday.'

The lifevests are running out for Pete McGrath and his players. Time to sink or swim.

Drogheda Independent