Goals Tipp bal­ance as Louth miss out again

Drogheda Independent - - FRONT PAGE -

SIL­VER­WARE evaded Louth’s grasp for the sec­ond time this sea­son, but no-one should be feel­ing too down in the mouth.

Even be­fore Saturday night’s Di­vi­sion 3 de­cider at a prac­ti­cally empty Croke Park, the Na­tional League was fad­ing to a speck in the rearview mir­ror; des­ti­na­tion Cham­pi­onship.

A tro­phy would ob­vi­ously have been a wel­come bonus, cap­ping a fine spring cam­paign, but Louth’s league fi­nal was in Thurles just over a fort­night ago and the real prize was pro­mo­tion.

Di­vi­sion 2 sta­tus and a big cham­pi­onship scalp - prefer­ably of the Royal va­ri­ety - would trump an O’Byrne Cup and/or Divi­son 3 ti­tle ev­ery day of the week.

To a man, Colin Kelly’s play­ers would have traded last year’s Di­vi­sion 4 crown for a win over Meath in Le­in­ster, and per­spec­tive is just as im­por­tant in de­feat as vic­tory.

It’s a well-worn cliche, but Louth lost very lit­tle in de­feat to Tipp and will at­tack the cham­pi­onship with re­newed gusto this sum­mer.

For one thing, the nine-point win­ning mar­gin deeply flat­tered Tip­per­ary.

They were the bet­ter team al­right, but the sec­ond goal was a gift, and the third ar­rived in the depths of in­jury-time as Louth com­mit­ted ev­ery­one bar goal­keeper Craig Lynch to at­tack.

In may ways it was a sim­i­lar game to the O’Byrne Cup fi­nal de­feat to Dublin in late Jan­uary.

Louth played bet­ter than that on Saturday night, start­ing well and kick­ing 19 scores over the 70-odd min­utes.

But the com­pass mal­func­tioned for a cru­cial spell just be­fore the break and, like Dublin, Tipp had the poise and power to reap max­i­mum ad­van­tage.

It was an­other harsh les­son in the dam­age good teams can in­flict when you switch off for even the briefest time.

Ar­magh all but clinched vic­tory inside the open­ing 15 min­utes with a sim­i­lar pow­er­play in Drogheda last month , so while it can hardly be de­scribed as a trend, it’s a facet of the game Colin Kelly will be keen to ad­dress.

That said, he would have had no com­plaints af­ter 25 min­utes on Saturday.

Louth started like they fin­ished in Thurles as Andy McDon­nell, De­clan Byrne and Paraic Smith opened a 0-3 to no score lead.

They then kicked four wides in a row and Tipp dropped a few sub­tle hints as to what they were ca­pa­ble of when Michael Quin­li­van dragged a daisy-cut­ter nar­rowly wide and An­thony Wil­liams made a vi­tal in­ter­cep­tion.

They pulled two points back through Conor Sweeny, from a free, and Liam Casey, but fur­ther scores from Ryan Burns and Tommy Durnin kept Louth in con­trol.

The Reds were de­fend­ing well, while still com­mit­ting men to at­tack, and fur­ther points from Smith and Eoin O’Connor made it 0-7 to 0-4.

But that early flu­ency in at­tack seemed to desert Louth in a cru­cial 10-minute spell be­fore the break.

They coughed up a few cheap turnovers in the fi­nal third and four points in as many min­utes drew Tipp level and re­minded ev­ery­one just how they reached an All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal last sum­mer.

And that was be­fore the goal, which stemmed from a slick move from one side of pitch to the other and ended with Sweeney set­ting up mid­fielder Liam Casey for a qual­ity fin­ish.

Cor­ner back Alan Camp­bell made it 1-5 with­out re­ply shortly af­ter­wards and although the sides traded two points apiece in the run-in to half-time, all of Louth’s im­pres­sive early en­deav­our was null and void as Tipp ad­journed with a 1-11 to 0-9 lead.

Louth re­peated their ear­lier bright start af­ter the break, cut­ting Tipp’s lead to two.

De­clan Byrne and Rob­bie Kiely traded the first two scores, but a cou­ple of Ryan Burns points, which sand­wiched a Tommy Durnin ef­fort, made it 1-12 to 0-13, and seem­ingly game on.

But again Tipp showed their class, hit­ting back with 1-3 over the next five min­utes, with just a Durnin point in re­ply at the other end. The goal was a killer blow. Be­van Duffy did bril­liantly to block and gather a cer­tain goal on the edge of the Louth square, but as he tried to smug­gle the ball out of de­fence he was dis­pos­sessed and Conor Sweeney blasted an un­stop­pable fin­ish past Craig Lynch.

At 2-15 to 0-14 Tipp’s lead was out to seven and they never looked in any dan­ger there­after.

Louth did string to­gether three points with­out re­ply, all from frees from Jim McEneaney (2) and De­clan Byrne, but the ex­cel­lent Josh Keane re­stored a five-point cush­ion as nor­mal-time ended.

An­thony Nolan would add a fur­ther six, but Louth were only huff­ing and puff­ing at that stage and it was Tipp who fin­ished with a flour­ish with subs Liam McGrath and Liam Boland ex­tend­ing their lead.

Sweeney’s sec­ond goal ar­rived af­ter the al­lot­ted six min­utes had elapsed and was a bit far­ci­cal as two Tip­per­ary play­ers found them­selves be­yond Louth’s last line, leav­ing Lynch com­pletely ex­posed and help­less.

It was harsh on Louth, but they won’t dwell on the de­feat or the man­ner of it for too long.

Most Louth fans would have been happy to avoid a quick re­turn to the bot­tom tier at the start of the year, so to win pro­mo­tion to Di­vi­sion 2, just two sea­sons af­ter drop­ping from the sec­ond tier is quite re­mark­able.

Tip­per­ary are a lot fur­ther along in their de­vel­op­ment process than Louth, but Colin Kelly has lit­er­ally worked won­ders to take a team kicked out the gate in Thurles less than three years ago to com­pete with a side that went on to reach an All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal.

The next big ob­jec­tive for the Louth boss and his play­ers will be a cham­pi­onship scalp fol­lowed by a de­cent run in Le­in­ster or the Qual­i­fiers.

Wick­low should be dis­patched in six weeks time, paving the way to an­other quar­ter-fi­nal date with Meath.

It re­mains to be seen how the Roy­als have pro­gressed un­der new boss Andy McEn­tee, but Louth will cer­tainly feel they have im­proved since last year’s meet­ing with their near neigh­bours, whom they join in Di­vi­sion 2 in 2018.

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