GAA | Louth book last-eight date with Meath after seeing off dogged Wicklow
Leinster SFC Round One | Louth 1–19 Wicklow 1–14
Louth set up a Leinster Senior Championship quarter-final showdown with Meath on June 4th after finally managing to shake off Wicklow in Sunday’s first round opener at Parnell Park.
After winning promotion from Division Three, Colin Kelly’s side went into the game as favourites to advance against a Wicklow outfit that lost six of their seven National League Division Four matches and were also looking for their first championship win since the summer of 2014.
However, the intensity and work rate that were some of the hallmarks of Louth’s successful league campaign were absent for much of the game here and with four minutes to go there was only one point in the difference and the game was well and truly up for grabs.
In the end, it was Louth’s strength in depth that shone through with three of their substitutes, Declan Byrne, Jim McEneaney and Ger McSorley, all racking up scores to give Kelly’s side a somewhat flattering five-point winning margin at the final whistle.
The Louth manager made one change to the side that was announced on Friday with James Stewart of Dundalk Gaels coming into the middle of the park in place of James Califf. Clan na Gael’s Conal McKeever was deployed in the sweeper position vacated by Derek Maguire, one of a number of players unavailable to Kelly.
An action-packed first-half saw both sides impress in fits and starts. Wicklow, with a slight breeze at their backs, failed to convert with the first opportunity of the day but Ruairi Moore and Ryan Burns were successful at the other end, the Hunterstown man doing well to collect an Eoin O’Connor pass in heavy traffic before splitting the posts.
Sean Furlong got Wicklow off the mark before Louth hit the game’s opening goal in the 11th minute. Darren Marks, making his championship debut for Louth, released Anthony Williams in space on the right and his ball across the face of goal left O’Connor with an easy finish.
Williams’ day came to a premature end when he was black carded in the 13th minute. Furlong converted the free and Wicklow showed their teeth after that with the same player winning the resulting kick out and feeding Mark Kenny who drilled the ball past Craig Lynch to put the Division Four side in front.
It took Louth some time to regain their composure although McKeever did manage to squeeze a left-footed effort inside the post either side of points from David Boothman and Darren Hayden.
It looked like the Reds were finally beginning to hit their stride when Ryan Burns’ brace of frees were followed up by an O’Connor point, the Pat’s man converting after it looked like the chance had initially passed him by.
Wicklow remained dogged and points from Conor French and Dean Healy, the latter taking advantage of a slack pass from Darren McMahon, tied the game up at 1–7 apiece.
Louth, however, finished the half with a flourish and Padraig Rath ‘popped’ up in an advanced position to get his name on the scoresheet before Paraic Smith, Burns — with another deadeye free — and the excellent O’Connor all did likewise to give Kelly’s side a four-point cushion at the break, 1–11 to 1–7.
Any notions that Louth would easily pull clear were dispelled in the early stages of the second half as Wicklow hit five of the first six scores.
Cunningham took the long way round to fire over before setting up Furlong who followed suit. A Burns free halted their momentum but Johnny McGee’s side hit back with three quickfire scores to draw level.
Frees from Cunningham and Furlong left just one between the teams before Mark Kenny tied it up when referee Niall Cullen played a good advantage after Darren Hayden was hauled back.
Kelly turned to his bench and substitute Declan Byrne was involved almost immediately, picking out Tommy Durnin with an incisive pass but the Westerns man was denied a goal by the feet of Robert Lambert.
Burns floated over the subsequent 45, a fine effort under pressure by the youngster, and it proved to be his last involvement with Sam Mulroy coming on to take his place seconds later.
The Naomh Mairtin starlet sent a 45 of his own wide shortly after but two of Kelly’s other subs came up trumps, Jim McEneaney and Declan Byrne extending the lead to three, 1–15 to 1–12, with 12 minutes to play.
The Garden County refused to lie down and when substitute John McGrath’s point was matched by a free from goalkeeper Lambert there was just one between the sides with four minutes left on the clock.
Wicklow pushed for an equalising score and O’Connor, who formed a fine partnership with Durnin in the middle of the park in the second half, did brilliantly to block a McGrath attempt.
It proved decisive as play switched to the other end and McEneaney swung over the score of the game — a sensational effort on his left side, drawing rapturous applause from those who made the short hop from Louth to Donnycarney.
Another player to make a significant contribution off the bench was Dundalk Gaels man, Ger McSorley, who made the five minutes of additional time a bit easier for Louth to navigate with a well-taken point before further scores from Declan Byrne and Bevan Duffy rounded off an expected, but seriously hard fought win.
Job done but Louth will have to go up a notch or two when they return to Parnell Park in a fortnight’s time for a tilt at the old enemy.
LOUTH: Craig Lynch; Padraig Rath (0–1), Patrick Reilly, Kevin Carr; Conal McKeever (0–1); Darren Marks, John Bingham, Anthony Williams; James Stewart, Tommy Durnin; Ruairi Moore (0–1), Paraic Smith (0–2), Bevan Duffy (0–1); Eoin O’Connor (1–2), Ryan Burns (0–6, 5f). Subs: Darren McMahon for A Williams (BC), 18 mins; Jim McEneaney (0–2) for C McKeever, 46 mins; Declan Byrne (0–2) for R Moore, 51 mins; Sam Mulroy for R Burns, 55 mins; Ger McSorley (0–1) for P Smith, 58 mins; Kurt Murphy for D Marks, 70+3 mins.
WICKLOW: Robert Lambert (0–1, 1f); Ciaran Hyland, Stephen Kelly, Brendan Kennedy; Darren Hayden (0–1), Paul McLoughlin, John Crowe; David Boothman (0–1), Niall Gaffney; Darragh Fitzgerald, Dean Healy (0–1), Conor French (0–1); Mark Kenny (1–1), Sean Furlong (0–4, 3f), Paul Cunningham (03, 1f). Subs: Anthony McLoughlin for D Boothman, 60 mins; John McGrath (0–1) for P Cunningham, 60 mins; Peadar Traynor for P McLoughlin, 63 mins; Rory Finn for For M Kenny, 70 mins.
REFEREE: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh).