Don’t write off Dublin’s young guns warns Kelly
COLIN Kelly has urged his Louth players to treat whatever Dublin team turns up in Drogheda with the utmost respect on Sunday.
A celebration holiday in the Bahamas prompted the All-Ireland champions to call up a completely new panel for the O’Byrne Cup campaign under the temporary management of Paul Clarke.
But whether they continue to experiment on Sunday or not, Kelly insists they won’t be short on quality.
‘A national reporter said to me there that he was surprised Dublin beat Kildare - surprised Dublin win a game of football?’ Kelly quipped after Louth’s impressive semi-final win over Meath.
‘Whoever Dublin bring you can be sure they’ll be laden with Minor and U-21 All-Ireland titles and they will have serious quality. All of these players are pushing to get into Jim Gavin’s thoughts.
‘From our point of view it’s a final and we want to win it. It will be great to get a good crowd out at home and our lads will give it a lash. If we can get silverware early in the year it will be great.’
Speaking of competition for places, Kelly is delighted with the way his own squad has shaped up over the winter.
‘When I came in here three years ago morale was low and a lot of players had just retired. But now all of a sudden we have a squad with intent and we seem to be making small strides in the right direction.
‘The young lads are coming in and putting pressure on the older guys and we seem to be tightening up the squad all the time and it only bodes well for the National League.
‘Andy came in today and I thought he was exceptional and Tommy is working very hard. We have guys sitting behind us chomping at the bit to get into the team. Darren McMahon was centre back last year and we put Liam Dullaghan in today to see where he’s at and again he was exceptional. Bevan and Conall and the lads up top, they’re all working really hard too.’
And Kelly felt Sunday’s display was his team’s best of 2017 to date.
‘It’s a lovely place to play football and our lads warmed to it today with a passionate and skilful performance.
‘It’s another confidence builder. Players react differently, but we keep asking for more every Sunday and the results keep coming.
‘Now we haven’t given anyone a trimming. We got over the line against Westmeath and we got over the line against the college team (Maynooth) and Carlow. Today was probably our best performance of the four, but the conditions were perfect and if you couldn’t play today when can you play.
‘But I keep preaching that from the minute the lads came back in they’ve been very focused on what we want to achieve.
‘Our defensive system seems to be improving and we’re playing better going forward, so overall they’re a real good bunch to work with and probably the only downside is that we couldn’t get more game time into more lads.’
Despite a sketchy opening spell where numerous efforts were dropped short into the ‘keeper’s hands, Louth kept a tight rein on Meath throughout the 70 minutes - before and after Alan Forde’s red card.
‘It’s not just about the six defenders, the whole team is working hard. When we break we try to do it at pace but that’s an area we wouldn’t be 100 per cent happy with yet. That’s the way the game has gone, you soak it up and then try and punch holes in the opposition.’
After that wasteful and almost nervy openeing period Louth found their range on the run-in to half-time with Tommy Durnin, Derek Maguire and Declan Byrne kicking vital scores.
‘They’ve done that all last year. Some of the points Derek and Declan scored last season were excellent and Tommy has great range in his shooting and he’s very accurate for a big fella. We did drop some short in the early stages, but the lads that were pulling the trigger you’d still back them every Sunday and it will happen for them. It’s still stuff we haven’t worked a lot on in training.’
And Kelly was equally impressed by the manner in which his side coped with a mini Meath revival midway through the second-half.
‘There was no panic. We spoke about the extra man at half-time and to sit the spare man at the edge of the D would negate it, so we tried to push on. When you do that you do leave yourself open a bit at the back so we’re trying to work out a happy medium of when do we push and when do we sit. It was inevitable that Meath would have a period of dominance and they kicked a few scores, but there was never a goal threat and I felt they needed a goal to win the game.
While the win was a great morale booster for his players, Kelly feels it should give supporters a badly-needed lift too.
‘Yeah it’s great for supporters too. They have seen a lot of barren days and I know it’s only the O’Byrne Cup but it’s another final to look forward to and another good, competitive match to prep us for Laois the following Saturday.
‘It’s positive. We’ve played four and won four in 2017 and these lads are a pleasure to work with and they’re improving all the time.’
‘We’ve come over here and pitted ourselves against a Division 2 team and come out on the right side of it and that’s all you can expect from the lads.
‘I’ve been over here quite a few times and no-one slaps you on the back. Even when we were going out onto the pitch there were few muffled boos. There weren’t too many boos when we were going back in which is testament to how well the lads played,’ he added.
A happy Colin Kelly leaves the Pairc Tailteann pitch after Louth’s win over Meath on Sunday.