Louth’s aim is to be playing in an All-Ireland quarter-final at the end of the month and the draw has certainly offered them a live chance of achieving that
Louth’s aim is to be playing in an All-Ireland quarter-final at the end of the month and the draw has certainly offered them a live chance of achieving that.
While Cork – like Kildare – are undoubtedly a further step up from the opposition Louth were accustomed to during the spring programme, they aren’t anything like either of the four Division 1 teams the Reds could have pulled from the hat.
Clearly, the fact that Mickey Harte’s men have to go to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, instead of facing the Rebels in Ardee (which would have been the case had the names been pulled the other way around), stacks the odds in the Munster men’s favour yet further.
Though maybe even more than the result, how Louth adjust to the task at hand will be of utmost importance following the morale-sapping hammering by Kildare four weeks ago. Not only was there a physical gulf between the teams but the Reds seem to get caught up in their own hype and strayed away from a tactical approach based on diligence that had served them so well during the National League.
A forward line containing Ciarán Byrne, Sam Mulroy, Ciarán Downey and Conor Grimes worked against Carlow and was fearsome in the process, but the Wee County lined out for the majority of the league with only Mulroy and Downey, of that quartet, as regular starters.
They were flanked by a number of players whose offensive acumen while less sharp, offered a level of workrate and ability to get retrieve the ball which was so blatantly lacking versus Kildare.
It seems Harte and trainer Gavin Devlin have learned from that. In winning games, both this season and last, the Reds have been anything but defensive and effectively disproven the management’s perceived ‘defensive’ outlook. Louth have played some of their best, most fluent, attacking football since Peter Fitzpatrick was team boss in the past six months.
But it’s believed that Louth will adopt a much more pragmatic approach as they step into the elite realm this weekend. Mulroy and Downey are expected to be retained with doubts over the starting XI places of Byrne and Grimes. Dáire Nally and Craig Lennon – both back from injury – are likely to get ‘worker’ roles alongside Liam Jackson and Conall McKeever.
With Tommy Durnin – who has resumed full training following a nasty concussion, suffered in the dying embers of the Kildare joust – and Conor Early the cement-supported midfield partnership, there are any number of options for the half-back slots, with positions 2-4 almost guaranteed to include Daniel Corcoran, Bevan Duffy and Donal McKenny in that order.
Niall Sharkey is an automatic selection at centre-half and given the gameplan is likely to necessitate explosive players capable of breaking forward and breaching lines of Cork cover, Leonard Grey and John Clutterbuck may be the men in from the start.
The goalkeeper, of course, is James Califf who should relish the vast surface on Leeside where delivering off the tee is concerned.
TAILORING THE TEAM
Harte may have come out after the Lilies loss and spoken of the crucial moments that fell in Kildare’s favour and how significant blows were shipped at critical stages. He was correct to a degree, but there is also a feeling that the Tyrone men in charge felt Louth were at a stage beyond where they actually are.
Their bold approach was obliterated by opposition of a standard that Louth strive to reach. Getting there is a completely different conversation and wouldn’t seem attainable in the near future despite the age profile of the Louth squad indicating that prime levels remain on the horizon as opposed to in the rear-view mirror.
So it’s expected that the Reds are going to be extreme in their defensive concentration against Cork and that may be a blueprint for the set-up which lies ahead in Division 2. It should work in terms of keeping them in the game and that has to be a priority following the first-quarter pummelling in Tullamore.
Whether the Reds can accumulate the required registers up front remains the issue then, but there is at least a plan in this regard given the pace of the players likely to be selected. Win the ball back, run like Olympic sprinters, put the ball dead, settle back into shape and repeat. Provided the shot-to-score ratio is close to par, Louth should be able to put up a meaningful challenge.
Then it’s about bringing in ‘finishers’ like Grimes and Byrne, the latter having had a telling impact off the bench during several National League matches, to capitalise when the match is less structured and gaps are there to be exploited.
Cork, compared with the team that took on Louth in 2020, are virtually incomparable. Confidence is very low following a miserable Division 2 campaign where relegation was narrowly avoided.
They put in a committed shift against Kerry in the Munster semi-final and stayed with the Kingdom for a considerable portion of the contest but ultimately lost by 12 points with Jack O’Connor’s men pulling up.
Not that their preparations have been helped by manager Keith Ricken having to step away temporarily due to personal reasons. The charismatic head of GAA in Cork IT has been involved at underage level for many years and has brought many successful players through since succeeding Ronan McCarthy.
The Rebels, as they showed last time out, have a really good set of full-forwards with veteran Brian Hurley a certified goal-getter. St Finbarr’s clubman Steven Sherlock has pace to burn and was prolific in Barrs’ march to last season’s All-Ireland semi-final. Meanwhile, the lesser known of the trio, Mitchelstown’s Cathail O’Mahony, was a scorer of three sublime points against Kerry, his rangy frame throwing evasive shapes all through.
Ian Maguire remains their midfield powerhouse, while centre-forward Seán Powter – who was on the University of Limerick team that lost the Sigerson Cup final – is an abrasive, ‘low to the ground’ force at No11. Early and Sharkey would seem to be Louth’s best foil options where these men are concerned.
A match the Reds can win. They are unlikely to but they have a chance. However, getting a coherent performance is the most significant thing as it can engender belief heading into a gruelling-looking Division 2 next season.