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Wee men out to repeat history

IN Louth it still ranks as their greatest championship moment of the past three decades. In Kildare it was an afternoon of complete and utter deflation.

Either way, Sunday, June 16 will be forever carved into the sporting memories of those that were there but, without question, for completely conflicting reasons

Louth were at that time a fine team trapped in the confines of their province throughout the '90s -- the sort of outfit who would have relished a qualifier campaign -- were drawn at home to meet Kildare in the Leinster opener.

Kildare, proudly boasting the sparkling new arrival of none other than the most successful manager in the history of inter-county football, arrived with a team who had almost beaten Dublin in the League final.



EPIC

Just a week previous, the Dubs had engaged in the opening act of their four-game epic with Meath, a saga which would, no doubt, drain the life out of the eventual victors.

Laois, considered a soft touch at that time, awaited the winners of the Kildare-Louth game in the Leinster semi-final.

It was a day that Kildare defender Davy Dalton will, by his own admission, never forget.

"I have to say it was one of the best games I ever played for Kildare," he remembers. "But I got blamed for the two goals that we conceded. Neither of them were my fault but we won't go down that road..."

Dalton formed the fiercest part of a near impenetrable Lilywhite rearguard in the first half, one which kept Louth -- who had been afforded oceans of possession by their all-action midfielder, Seamus O'Hanlon -- to just four points. That paltry tally accumulated with the aid of a substantial breeze too.

Declan Kerrigan grabbed a goal to bisect the second half and stick Kildare six points up and seemingly coasting into Croke Park before Stefan White's first vital intervention of the day.

"It was a very, very heated dressing room at half-time," recalls then Louth corner-back and current manager Peter Fitzpatrick.

"Being honest, I didn't think we had a chance going out. But we got stuck in. I think Stefan got away with a nudge in the back for the first goal. It was a Seamus Darby sort of goal."

Yet whereas Darby's subtle nudge to Tommy Doyle's back has been the source of much closer inspection ever since the most famous goal in Gaelic football history, White's was so blatant as to be almost comical.

He launched Dalton a full two metres out of his way, collected the ball, galloped into space and fired low to the net.

According to Fitzpatrick, though, he was fortunate to still be on the field at that stage.

"He was very lucky because I know that they were thinking about taking him off at half time. Stefan had a very quiet first half. He was only after coming back from Monaghan, who he had played with for a couple of years and he hadn't made an impact.

"He was very, very poor. But thank God they left him on."

Louth established a minor lead but a goal for Kildare substitute Jarlath Gilroy put Kildare back up with minuscule time remaining. It was, apparently, the classic case of the underdog baulking at an opportunity to win big. Or so the 20,000 plus crowd in Drogheda reckoned.

White, Louth's undisputed danger man of the era, had one more card to play.



NAIVE

"Glenn Ryan was getting cramps," explains Dalton. "He was only a young lad. He was out in front of me. And I said 'you go back in corner-back and I'll go out covering you'. Which was a bit stupid and naive when I think about it.

"I went out wing-back and the ball went straight back in to the man I was supposed to be marking (Cathal O'Hanlon) but Glenn was marking him at the time.

"He slipped it to White, the ball went into the back of the net and it was game over.

"If he had gone down injured and we had just played the clock out, we would have won. It was a bit naive. Time was up. I just thought 'I'll go out and cover for you'. And it cost us the game. It was inexperience and naivety. I didn't do it ever again, put it that way."

Pandemonium ensued.

"Mick O'Dwyer in the dressing room afterwards -- I'll give him 10 out of 10," praises Fitzpatrick.

"He took it very well. He came in and shook his head. Before Micko went to Kildare, we had him up in Louth for a few sessions. I think the man was actually shell-shocked."

The season of Micko in Kildare had come to a startling halt. Louth, though, never kicked on either.

They went six clear at one stage of their ill-fated semi-final clash with Laois when White missed a penalty. The O'Moore men scrambled for a draw and won the replay in a match better remembered for a spectacular punch-up between both sets of players and substitutes.

But if the result constituted a shock in the formlines, it had no immediate effect on the recent historical balance in power between the teams.

"Louth have always been a bogey team for Kildare over the years. I don't think I was on a team that ever beat Louth," Dalton reckons, and Fitzpatrick is inclined to agree.

"I played 16 years for Louth and I never remember Kildare winning," he says.

Whether his own team can cause a similar tremor on Saturday in Navan is another matter entirely, though. Louth are coming from a low base. Kildare arrive under the radar but with a load of whispers about Leinster success ringing in their ears.

"We have to improve 50pc from the Longford game if we want to even compete with Kildare," says Fitzpatrick.

"I know Kildare have their sights on a Leinster final but they had their sights on a Leinster final in '91 and I hope we can do that to them again," he concludes.

The Lilies have been warned.


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