Fitzpatrick delights in sweet Louth revenge
CLARE 0-21 LIMERICK 1-16
WHAT was billed as a huge relegation clash in Navan yesterday was more like a mastiff giving the Easter bunny a mauling and it was Meath who slunk away, bloodied and mortified.
That arch-rivals and neighbours Louth were the aggressors, and survivors, spoke volumes about the parlous state of the Royals, who couldn't even manage a stab at one of their trademark Houdini acts.
Reduced to 13 men when both of their midfielders were sent off in the second half, Meath's composure and discipline totally deserted them as they took the ignominious drop to Division 3 that they'd only narrowly avoided this time last year.
The only bit of fight in them seemed to come from manager Seamus McEnaney, who was bullish when asked if he was tempted to quit.
"I've been involved in many fights in my life, in my business, in family and in football, and I've never walked away from one yet," McEnaney insisted. "This is a fight, but it's a fight we've to get on with."
Yes, but could you, perhaps, get the push? "Look, there'll be a lot of disappointed managers this evening and unfortunately I'm one of them," he acknowledged.
"I felt we would rally the troops and get a result and it hasn't happened, but the most important people to me are the players in the dressing-room and any discussion around that (his future) will be with me and the players."
Meath's players certainly carry plenty of responsibility themselves for yesterday's disastrous display which saw them trailing by 12 points (1-12 to 0-3) by half-time,
They weren't helped by losing full-back Kevin Reilly to a pulled neck muscle beforehand and got one particularly unfavourable call that resulted in Louth's second goal, but McEnaney didn't look for excuses.
"We could point to a heap of different things, but I'm not shirking any responsibility. It's the manager's job to get the best out of the players and we're not getting the best out of them at the moment."
No Easter egg in Louth surely tasted as sweet yesterday as the revenge that the Wee County savoured, and their delighted fans cheered every pass as they finishing up by playing 'keep ball'.
Even manager and TD Peter Fitzpatrick put his usual political diplomacy aside to reveal their motivation.
"That buried the Leinster final of 2010," he announced. "That hurt us bad, we felt as though we owed Meath something and today makes up for that.
"People are always saying Louth can't beat Meath, but that puts it to bed and there's no better place to beat Meath than in their own back garden."
Fitzpatrick felt that Louth's gutsy four-point fightback to take a point against Derry provided the impetus for yesterday's remarkable nine-point win.
But it also looked like they'd studied a showreel of how Kildare had approached Meath, running through the heart of them from the throw-in with a rapid counter-attacking game.
Nippy corner-forward Derek Maguire got their first goal after 25 minutes to yield an unimaginable 1-7 to 0-1 lead, with Stephen Bray only managing to open Meath's scoring in the 20th minute.
Cian Ward and corner-back Mickey Burke got two good points before half-time to shake Meath out of their stupor and, turning to take the big wind advantage, there was still a sliver of hope, though they'd only managed 0-3 and one wide by then.
That glimmer of hope expanded to a full ray when Louth 'keeper Neil Gallagher fluffed a clearance five minutes after the re-start and Tom Walsh pounced for a goal.
But then Meath got caught napping when Paddy Keenan, admittedly off a dubious free, took it quickly to his unmarked midfield partner Ronan Carroll, who created the space for Maguire to bag his second goal.
It was game over then, and the match descended into unnecessary off-the-ball scrapping as tensions boiled over. Meath lost Brian Meade (pictured below) to two yellows, in the 55th and 56th minutes, and then Mark Ward got a straight red on 64 minutes.
But that only distracted from the paucity of Meath's football. Ward and Bray missed some easy frees but, all around the pitch, few of them matched the sort of urgency, creativity and commitment that Louth showed.
As always Keenan was exemplary but so too was Carroll, who scored 0-3 by half-time and had a hand in all the moves that turned the game Louth's way.
"It was their best performance in my three years in charge," said their delighted manager. "This will give us some confidence going into the Leinster championship against Westmeath (May 20)."
Meath, who face Wicklow in the Leinster championship on May 27, suffered the long fall from grace to Division 3 after a fifth loss in a row and things have clearly now reached something of a crisis.
Man of the Match: R Carroll (Louth)
Scorers -- Louth: D Maguire 2-2, D Clarke 0-6 (3f, 2 '45'), R Carroll 0-3, D Byrne, P Keenan, A Reid 0-1 each. Meath: T Walsh 1-0, C Ward 0-3 (2f), S Bray 0-2, M Burke, B Menton, G Reilly 0-1 each.
Louth -- N Gallagher 7; D Finnegan 9, P Rath 8, G Hoey 8; D Byrne 7, J Carr 8, R Finnegan 8; P Keenan 9, R Carroll 9; D Crilly, M Brennan 8, A Reid 8; D Maguire 8, J McEneaney 7, D Clarke 7. Subs: A McDonnell 6 for Brennan (56), B White 6 for Carroll (73).
Meath -- D Gallagher 7; M Burke 7, C King 6, C O'Connor 5; S McAnarney 7, B Menton 6, D Tobin 6; B Meade 4, M Ward 5; S Bray 7, S Kenny 5, G Reilly 6; C Ward 6, B Farrell 5, J Queeney 5. Subs: T Walsh 7 for Farrell (21), C Lenihan 7 for O'Connor (29), A Forde 6 for Queeney (56).
Ref -- M Collins (Cork).