Fitzpatrick backs Dubs insider to raise Louth hopes
HE was the last man to lead Dublin into the defence of the All-Ireland title, but now John O'Leary is among the main plotters in the attempt to unseat the champions at the first fence.
O'Leary, who captained Dublin to All-Ireland glory in 1995, joined Louth as a goalkeeping coach early in the year but has since had his brief extended to include the defence. And with former Donegal manager Brian McEniff and Down's Declan Mussen also aboard Peter Fitzpatrick's back-room team, Louth have a wide range of expertise to call on.
"You can never have too many good people around you. These guys are proven winners and bring so much knowledge to the scene. They're a huge help. It might seem a bit strange for John to be working with Louth in the build-up to the Dublin game but this sort of thing has happened in a lot of counties," said Fitzpatrick.
McEniff presided over Donegal's famous All-Ireland final win against Dublin in 1992 and now Louth will be hoping that his insights will prove invaluable as they bid to avoid a 13th successive championship defeat by their neighbours.
Louth's last championship win over Dublin was in a Leinster first-round game in 1973 but they have since lost 12 times, the most recent being in 2010 when they were well beaten in a fourth-round qualifier tie 13 days after the controversial provincial final clash with Meath.
Dublin are overwhelming favourites to extend the sequence on Sunday, but Fitzpatrick believes that Louth have a better chance of causing an upset than might appear to be the case.
"Division 2 was a great preparation ground for the championship. The standard was very high and every game was a huge learning experience for teams. Whether you win or lose, you learn a lot when you're playing against good teams," he said.
Louth were widely tipped for relegation but staved it off after drawing with Derry and easily beating Meath in the last two rounds. They had earlier beaten Westmeath (they repeated it in the championship) and drawn with Galway.
"If we're capable of beating Meath and drawing with Galway and Derry, we have to be doing something right. I'd be very happy with how things have gone over the last few months. We're working well as a team -- we have good options in the panel -- and there's a great sense of ambition around the squad. Dublin are putting out their best team, so there's no question of them taking us for granted," he added.
A late goal by Daniel O'Connor secured a one-point win for Louth over Westmeath in the first round after a performance that wouldn't be anywhere near good enough to match Dublin. But Fitzpatrick believes there will be a big improvement on Sunday.
"You always learn from the first game. The important thing was to survive it and we did that. Now we're ready for the next step up. Getting to Croke Park to play Dublin was a big goal for us this year and now that we're there we want to make the most of it."