herald

Monday 20 November 2017

Louth have a wee bit more

THOSE continually mourning the deprived state of the Leinster football championship were given material for a few more laments yesterday in Portlaoise as the day's 'main event' between Louth and Longford proved a complete non-event.

The upshot of the 70 minutes of remarkably low quality and dull fare is that Louth beat Longford by 1-11 to 1-7 to qualify for the provincial semi-finals.

On the basis of their respective performances, Peter Fitzpatrick's men won't worry Kildare and Longford are unlikely to raise a gallop in the qualifiers.

RTé's live TV schedule dictated that the Meath versus Offaly match be the undercard and this disjointed, dispiriting clash would constitute the day's showpiece.

Unsurprisingly, supporters of neither Meath nor Offaly lingered too long in O'Moore Park after their own county's involvement had ended.

Given that Louth had beaten only Carlow over the course of the past two championships and Longford finished above just London and Kilkenny in Division 4 of the National Football League, perhaps it was optimistic to expect anything but dull, stodgy fare, blighted with skill deficiencies and commitment.

Louth, by virtue of the fact that their midfield completely dominated Longford's and they were slightly craftier in attack, won the game with a late blast of points (five) between the 48th and last minutes to which Longford had no reply.



PRAGMATISM

"The main thing was the result," stated Fitzpatrick afterwards. "I didn't care if it was one point or 10 points, all we wanted to do was win the game and get a crack at Kildare."

Such pragmatism was a necessary indulgence for Fitzpatrick if extracting positives from the afternoon was the chief aim. Paddy Keenan and Brian White aside, Louth showed little real quality or industry.

Keenan -- a shining light in a very dark tunnel -- fielded six superb high balls, kicked two points and lent a creative hand when it was needed.

Louth's inside-forward line of Colm Judge, Shane Lennon and JP Rooney contributed 1-5 between them but didn't look overly dangerous at any particular stage.

The goal, just before half-time, came from Lennon in a move now generally referred to as route one. Keenan fielded one of Damien Sheridan's monstrous kick-outs and hoofed high and long onto the edge of the square.

Lennon, in one of his few moments of note, caught, turned and finished in a heartbeat. It was the first moment of even mild excitement for the remaining members of the O'Moore Park attendees.

Before that, the teams remained at close quarters. As predicted, Brian Kavanagh's foot injury ruled him out, and while Paul Barden did start, his lack of match practice was obvious.

Longford employed Declan Reilly in a sweeper role between the two back lines though his most effective contributions were as an extra man in attack rather than in the intended fire-blanket capacity.

Louth led by 1-6 to 0-6 at the break but unfortunately, the only thing that changed at half-time was the direction into which the two teams were shooting, save for a brief sign of life from Longford.

Bernard McElvaney, on as a half-time sub for midfielder Barry Gilleran, extinguished Louth's lead with a goal straight from the charity shop.

Reilly was prominent in the move leading up to the score and McElvaney found himself 20 metres out.

Of what happened next, it's a matter of opinion which was worse: McElvaney's half-baked attempt for a point or Louth goalkeeper Neil Gallagher's positioning as the ball faded underneath his crossbar.

Peter Foy nosed Longford into the lead, seconds after hand-passing the ball into the Louth goal for an illegal 'goal', but Barden made a howler minutes afterwards from which his team never recovered.

Just 20 metres out the right of the goal, Barden spurned a chance to get a shot away in favour of engaging his marker and getting closer to the posts.

However, referee Pat Fox deemed the contact a push and Louth were awarded a free out, controlled the rest of the game and sailed into the quarter-finals.

"We had an opportunity of going another point or two up. When we were level, we had a simple chance which wasn't taken. We have to take every opportunity that comes our way. Unfortunately, today we didn't."

Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, enthused about his team's "all round performance" but predictably, singled out his midfielders for special praise.

"I thought Paddy Keenan and Brian White were excellent today. I thought they did the simple things well. They caught the ball well and our half-backs and half-forwards gave great support and they were able to lay it off.

"The goal before half-time was a very important score," he acknowledged. "In fairness to Longford, they came back and got a goal but I knew the calibre of the Louth team. They're a young, fit team and I knew they'd come back again.

"Longford came at us, we went at them but I think the best team won on the day. We showed Longford an awful lot of respect. I thought Glenn Ryan and Graham Geraghty did a wonderful job with them but I'm just delighted that we're through to play Kildare and move forward from there," he concluded.

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