Monday 18 December 2017

O'Rourke insists plucky Wee County have scope to improve

LOUTH 1-17 ANTRIM 1-11

Sean Wall

LOUTH had aspirations of playing in front of a bumper crowd in a Leinster semi-final at Croke Park at the weekend.

LOUTH had aspirations of playing in front of a bumper crowd in a Leinster semi-final at Croke Park at the weekend.

Wexford ended those dreams two weeks earlier and instead the Wee County had to settle for the All-Ireland qualifiers in the the Gaelic Grounds, Drogheda, on Saturday.

They successfully negotiated that hurdle, their first win in the qualifiers since beating Limerick in 2007, but the Croke Park dream is a long way off on the evidence of this showing.

Manager Aidan O'Rourke accepted afterwards that there was plenty of scope for improvement but expressed himself happy with the outcome, despite some shortcomings.

"It was about getting over the line and building a bit of confidence and momentum and any time you win a qualifier by six points it's a good day's work," the Armagh native said.

"I thought if we had taken all of the chances that we created it would have been much more comfortable.

"We had a foothold on the game in the third quarter but then Antrim began to show a lot of good character, as indeed did the Louth lads. It was good to see different people stepping up to the challenge."

O'Rourke will have to plan without Neil Gallagher for the next game after the 'keeper was sent off minutes from the end on a straight red card following a verbal altercation involving an umpire.

"I've no idea what happened with the Neil incident, I think himself and the umpire were disputing a point, it was disappointing," O'Rourke said.

Antrim managed a mere six points in the defeat to Monaghan and their lack of cutting edge in front of the posts surfaced again as they struck four wides and only one point in the opening 10 minutes.

The hosts were more economical with Colm Judge, Ciaran Byrne, Conor Rafferty and Brian White picking off scores. Louth were never headed at any stage and that poor start for the Saffrons left them chasing the game throughout.

It got much bleaker for Frank Dawson's men on 15 minutes when Derek Maguire sent a delivery towards goal which was grabbed by Byrne, who shot low to the net.

There was an abundance of wayward shooting by both sides after that, Antrim's corner-forward Paddy Cunningham being the exception as he landed four points before the end of the half (two frees) to keep his side in contention. Adrian Reid squandered a glorious chance of a second Louth goal when failing to hit the target on 31 minutes, but his side still led comfortably, 1-7 to 0-6, at the break.

The game should have been over as a contest within a minute of the restart but Byrne was unable to finish to the net from two metres after an effort from Judge rebounded off the crossbar.

However with Paddy Keenan in control at midfield, points from Shane Lennon, White and sub Ronan Carroll left it 1-10 to 0-6 by the 44th minute.

Antrim refused to throw in the towel and, boosted by a fine goal from Michael Pollock and two further points from Cunningham, they cut the deficit to two points going into the final quarter. Cunningham then had an opportunity to leave the minimum between the teams but shot wide.

Louth responded as Carroll stepped up to the mark with three points, and and Rafferty also contributed a point to thwart a possible Antrim revival.

There was no way back for Antrim after that, but manager Dawson was full of praise for his charges afterwards.

"I just hope you people are kinder on the effort the players put in because I thought they played some brilliant football. We just came up short," he said.

SCORERS – Louth: S Lennon 0-5 (1f), C Byrne 1-2, C Rafferty, B White (1f), R Carroll 0-2 each, P Keenan, D Maguire, C Judge, R Finnegan 0-1 each. Antrim: P Cunningham 0-6 (4fs), M Pollock 1-1, C Murray, M Herron, B Herron, K O'Boyle 0-1 each.

LOUTH – N Gallagher 7; P Rath 7, D Finnegan 7, J Bingham 6; C McGuinness 5, D Crilly 7, A Reid 6; P Keenan 8, B Donnelly 6; C Rafferty 7, B White 7, C Judge 7; D Maguire 7, S Lennon 8, C Byrne 7. Subs: R Finnegan 7 for McGuinness (16), R Carroll 7 for Donnelly (29), D Clarke 6 for Byrne (50), P Smith for Rafferty (67), J Flanagan for Clarke (68).

ANTRIM – C Kerr 7; K O'Boyle 7, P Doherty 6, R Johnson 7; A Healey 6, S Kelly 7, J Crozier 7; S McVeigh 6, J Carron 7; C Murray 7, M Herron 7, B Herron 6; M Pollock 7, M Sweeney 6, P Cunningham 8. Subs: P McBride 6 for Healey (53), R Murray 6 for McViegh (58), D McAleese 6 for M Herron (62), N Delargy for B Herron (65).

REF – C Branagan (Down).

Irish Independent

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