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A win over Cork would be some turn-up for Louth – three years on from an empty stadium, quiet roads and an 18-point drubbing

Caoimhín Reilly


Liam Jackson moves forward with the ball for Louth during the 2020 National League defeat by Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Sportsfile

Liam Jackson moves forward with the ball for Louth during the 2020 National League defeat by Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Sportsfile

Liam Jackson moves forward with the ball for Louth during the 2020 National League defeat by Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Sportsfile

There will be an exclusive club of Louth supporters who have seen it all in games against Cork. From beating the Leesiders in the 1957 All-Ireland final to the thrill of running Billy Morgan’s men right to the end in the qualifier clash of 50 years later.

Last season’s championship meeting won’t live long in the memory for the quality of football that was on display, although, for many who travelled down from this part, getting to see their county play at the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh was the entire point of the longest of journeys south. Not that the hosts were entirely hospitable having booed at the manner in which the visitors set-up. All water under the bridge.

The vast majority of Wee followers will have forgotten about the National League clash in between, in 2020, when Covid-19 remained rife and there was a 5km limitation on travel. Reporters were deemed essential workers at that stage and so the local press were able to make the trek.

Having lost each of the opening five matches in the ‘spring’ programme, Louth were all but demoted ahead of the October duel on Leeside, though their condemnation to Division 4 was confirmed by a 5-19 to 0-16 loss. 

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Making the journey on one’s own wasn’t the most pleasant of jaunts. There were cops stationed at a checkpoint around Goffs, shortly before the M7. Now it wasn’t as though the road was busy so the Garda on patrol was all chat as he checked my credentials.

On the way home, in darkness, I can remember asking myself why the my auld mate, the plod, couldn’t have ordered me to turn around and go home. But he let me go and face the consequences. I’d say from the point of joining the M9 until coming off in Cork city, I’d have met no more than 30 cars coming the other way. 

What was worse, I’d had the displeasure of listening to BBC’s commentary of Celtic’s home defeat by Rangers on the way down as well. Not a good day at all, one which would see Louth finish with 12 men on the field following three dismissals and an 18-point drubbing. Pat Spillane, on commentary for the GAA’s stream of the match, let out more ‘oohs’ and ‘aghs’ than a 40-stone man trying to complete a press-up. 

It made for absolutely horrendous viewing and the spin homeward saw a mental AGM take place as to where Louth could possibly go from here. Not even in the fantasy would Mickey Harte have been appointed the next team boss. 

But that’s what happened and Wee advocates are living the life at the moment. Cavan memorably went from Division 1 to the fourth tier in three seasons, but it’s never been done in reverse before. And yet a Louth victory over Cork on Sunday would set-up a showdown with the Dubs at Croke Park, one where another triumph would earn a shot at a third successive promotion.

Now, being two wins from the top-flight remains about as far away as earth from mars, but not quite the distance between where Wee were three years ago to Louth’s current position, as an ambitious team getting the full backing of every stakeholder and moving forward as one. 

The question continues to be asked – ‘how good is Gavin Devlin?’ 

Trainer of the team, the infectiously passionate Ardboe man continues to receive heaps of praise for how prepared he has the team. The cohesion of their play, impermeable nature of their defending, effectiveness of their incisions and movement, the creation of scoring opportunities, physical ability to continue to move as a unit for more than 70 minutes. 

A man close to the set-up pointed out the former All-Ireland-winning defender after the victory over Kildare, saying: “People talk about Rory Gallagher, that’s the best coach in Ireland”. But what is it? What has he – and the manager, obviously – done to transform a group of players who were aimlessly meandering along, enduring inter-county toil as oppose to relishing it?

Nine of the starting team from the humbling in Cork remain part and parcel of the set-up and apart from injured captain Sam Mulroy, the remainder are expected to be in contention for roles from the off in Ardee – Daniel Corcoran, Bevan Duffy, Anthony Williams, Tommy Durnin, Liam Jackson, Conall McKeever, Conor Early, Ryan Burns. Ciarán Keenan came off the bench.

In the aftermath of the victory over the Lilies, Louth’s odds on winning the Leinster title tumbled to 33/1 from 100/1. You were probably talking about 250/1 or 500/1 in the months before Harte took charge. 

The seismic shift has supporters beginning to dream about what could be possible having done enough pinching to realise the current scenario is not a dream. It’s as though Harte has broken the players’ mentally and rebuilt their thought process, thus setting limitless expectations and believing that the unthinkable could, in fact, become a possibility, or, furthermore, a reality. 

Upwardly mobile is a precise way of describing the trajectory of Louth’s progress and the curve continues to show no signs of plateauing. For all the predictions your writer has made incorrectly in the past, one that I stood by was that the Reds would simply not be relegated from Division 2, even after two defeats. They were too well organised and primed. 

Trusting the gut again, I can see Louth going to Croke Park on the final day with something to play for – but not survival. And if something special does happen, I’ll always have that guard to thank for letting me endure the darkness before Mickey shone the light.