'There's a certain mindset in Louth... they don't expect to do well – and it's not football-specific'
LOUTH are traditionally hampered by an acute lack of expectation, their manager Aidan O'Rourke has suggested ahead of the Leinster championship opener against Westmeath in Mullingar on Saturday night.
The former Armagh defender, who has had coaching stints with Kieran McGeeney in Kildare and James McCartan in Down prior to taking over from Peter Fitzpatrick in Louth, admits that much of the work he has found himself doing has been to "recalibrate their own expectations of themselves".
"Louth are unique," said O'Rourke. "There is a certain mindset that exists within the county. That is not necessarily football-specific. They don't expect to do well, they don't expect to excel or to exceed expectation, so that kind of does permeate into minds."
O'Rourke feels they sometimes don't realise just how talented they are.
"So much of the work we have to do is to recalibrate their own expectations of themselves. We feel they have a very talented group of players there. What they don't quite realise is how talented they are," he said.
"They have done a phenomenal amount of work in 18 months. I would argue that we are as well conditioned as any team in the country, and they have a capacity and an ability to play at the highest level.
"It's really just waiting on them to realise that's the level that they are at. They are not far away at all."
O'Rourke says if he didn't believe he could alter that mindset he wouldn't remain in the job another day.
"If I felt I couldn't change it I wouldn't be there. Mindsets do change. There are strategies and approaches that can adjust them but the greatest indicator of that adjustment is that they achieve," he said.
"They have a great summer ahead of them. If things fall their way and they get the bounce of the ball at the right time in the game that matters, that gives them that bit of belief in themselves, they can have a very strong summer."
Louth have come off the back of a poor league campaign that saw them draw their opening match with Armagh but lose the next six.
After retaining their Division 2 status for two successive years it was a step back, but O'Rourke argues that much change had to be made to adjust to changing circumstances.
"We had to remodel our forward line from last year because it was built around Shane Lennon, Ciaran Byrne and Brian White. We played the first half of the league without any of those three. Ciaran is gone for good so there is a certain amount of change required," he said.
"We were good last year but, fundamentally, it just wasn't good enough. There was a certain amount of culture change this year, changes to the squad. The league was difficult from that point of view, adjusting what we were trying to do and recalibrating some lines."
O'Rourke describes Aussie Rules recruit Byrne as a "phenomenon" who made a big impact in his first full year as a senior despite being just a few weeks out from being eligible for minor grade again in 2013.
"We're disappointed to lose him but we don't begrudge him the career he has ahead of him," said O'Rourke.
Louth lost to Westmeath in a first-round qualifier when they last met in a championship match in Mullingar in 2012 but O'Rourke is confident the Wee County can make a splash this year.
"The impression of Louth outside would be that they have been relegated from Division 2, not quite at the level of the top teams, but we feel there is a different story to be told. Westmeath are a formidable first hurdle but not one we'd be afraid of," he said.