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Wednesday 19 June 2019

2010 saga 'knocked the stuffing out of Louth for two years' - Fitz

Meath’s Joe Sheridan carries the ball over line
Meath’s Joe Sheridan carries the ball over line

Peter Fitzpatrick isn't shy about saying so: at some future date he'd love another crack at managing Louth. "I feel as though I've unfinished business," he explains.

You can see why.

Nowadays, Fitzpatrick is perhaps best known as an Independent TD for his native county. Nine years ago, though, he was front- and back-page news as the manager of a Louth team cruelly robbed of a first Leinster SFC title since 1957.

"I honestly thought he was Dick Turpin without a mask. I think that was just pure daylight robbery," a fuming Fitzpatrick famously remarked of the Joe Sheridan 'ghost goal' somehow allowed to stand by referee Martin Sludden.

Think Thierry Henry and you're only halfway there.

But, for all its obvious illegality, the injury-time goal stood, turning a one-point victory into two-point defeat. And the deafening clamour for a re-fixture also came to nothing, which meant 13 days later Louth had to lift themselves off the floor and face Dublin in a Croke Park qualifier. Back to the scene of the crime, so to speak.

When Eoghan O'Gara scored his second goal in the 33rd minute, the Dubs led 2-6 to 0-1: out the gate. Yet Louth 'won' the remaining 37-plus minutes by 0-12 to 0-8 and Fitzpatrick remains proud of their efforts in morale-sapping circumstances.

Stuffing

"We had a terrific squad," he enthuses. "That game against Meath knocked the stuffing out of Louth for the next two years.

"The amount of players that lost their confidence. People don't realise - psychologically it was an awful blow to Louth football what happened.

"And the fact we thought we were going to get a replay … it was the uncertainty that knocked the whole stuffing out of us. Then, all of a sudden, they realised seven or ten days later that we were never going to get the replay and then we thought about this other match."

Despite the eventual seven-point margin, Fitzpatrick reckons Louth were "very unlucky" against the Dubs.

"I thought we played very, very well. And the reason we played so well against Dublin is because we were strong and physical. And any team that has to play against Dublin has to attack them.

"I'm not going to say we'd have bested Dublin, I felt as though we had a great opportunity of winning that game, even though what happened with Meath happened."

As for the post-match scenes, when Dublin fans stayed behind in a show of support for his Louth players, their manager was bowled over. "Probably the best day of my life," he recalls.

Not so memorable was the 2012 Leinster quarter-final: Dublin cruised home by 2-22 to 0-12. "We sat back in the first half," he concedes. "And they came at us and came at us and we'd no answer whatsoever."

Fitzpatrick, by then a TD, stepped down at the end of that season. Ditto Pat Gilroy, whom he praises for bequeathing Jim Gavin "a fantastic foundation".

So, here we are: a first SFC clash since 2012, Louth facing five-in-a-row chasing Dublin in Portlaoise tomorrow (7pm).

"I'm a dreamer," says Fitzpatrick. "And I still dream Louth some day are going to win the Leinster championship."

But not this year - despite the excellent year-one progress of Wayne Kierans, who "took on a poisoned chalice" but has done a "fantastic job" so far.

Leaps

"Wayne is training a new squad. And in fairness they're fit, but they're just not physically strong enough at the moment. And that's going to take a couple of years," the former boss surmises.

"But playing Dublin in Portlaoise will take this Louth team on in leaps and bounds."

Fitzpatrick remains a "firm believer" that if you get a core group of 25 players and train them hard for three or four years, any county can go close.

But he can't see any Leinster pretender stopping Dublin this summer. "Meath were pretty poor the last day against Offaly. Kildare are the big disappointment," he muses.

"But if you look at Ulster and Connacht and Munster, I think there are teams capable of beating Dublin. Dublin won four All-Irelands there and, in fairness, could have lost two or three of them handy enough."

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