Saturday 24 March 2018

Fitzpatrick takes Louth talent drain on the chin

Aisling Crowe

Emigration seems to be one of the dominant themes of this championship summer so far, with stories emerging weekly of yet more county players forced to look abroad for work.

Louth have been particularly badly hit. Seven members of the squad had left before a ball was kicked in the championship and injuries to key players have only exacerbated the effect on the team. Since the heavy defeat to Dublin three weeks ago, four more have dropped off the panel.

"They got offers to play over in Boston for the summer," says manager Peter Fitzpatrick. "With the way the economy is it's very hard for young people so when they get offers of jobs they can't turn them down. I totally understand."

Matters came to a head last Monday week when a training session had to be cancelled as only four of the 18 players present were fit. Fitzpatrick met with the county board and they agreed to clear the club schedule. The loss of so many players in any county would be difficult to bear, but it's particularly felt in a county with a smaller playing pool. However, Fitzpatrick sees the bright side and the opportunity that it now affords.

"In fairness to the county board they gave us the next two weekends to prepare for the game against Westmeath. Since that meeting we've had 30 lads training and we've brought seven new players in from the under 21 team so it's fine. It gives young fellas the opportunity to train with the county team, get to know the players and maybe get on to the team. Someone's loss is someone else's gain."

It's been a far from ideal preparation for Fitzpatrick as his team bid to get their championship campaign back on track and plot a way through the qualifiers.

"The Dublin game was an awful blow for us. We went into the game hoping to do better but the game was gone in the space of four minutes. The two goals and two points they got in those four minutes killed us, but Dublin are an exceptional team."

A familiar opponent lies in wait in Mullingar next Saturday. It will be the fifth encounter between the two counties in two years. Louth needed an injury-time goal from Daniel O'Connor to get the better of Westmeath when they met in the first round of the championship five weeks ago. Fitzpatrick is anticipating another tight game between the sides.

At the start of the year retaining Division 2 status was the imperative. With that goal achieved, Fitzpatrick can continue the redevelopment of the team and build for the future, starting on Saturday. "It was important for us that we stayed in Division 2. Louth football is starting to make strides. The under 21s were in the Leinster final and we are getting a development squad together. You have to keep the chin up and we are still fighting away," Fitzpatrick adds.

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