Louth hold off Antrim fightback to maintain 100 per cent record
Alllianz Football League Division Three: Louth 2-10 Antrim 1-11
THIS repeat of the 2016 Division Four final had a similar result but an entirely different complexion.
A pristine Croke Park was replaced by a rain-sodden Gaelic Grounds, barely fit for football, and whereas Louth were forced to come from well off the pace last year, this time they were never behind and only once on level terms with Antrim.
In winning what was a war of attrition, the home side consolidated their position at the top of the table, making it four from four and putting themselves in the perfect position for the crunch home meeting with Armagh in two weeks.
Manager Colin Kelly feels two points from his side's remaining three matches will do the trick. “We have Armagh and Sligo here and Tipperary away, and they're no easy fixtures, but I think 10 points should get us over the line,” he said.
Antrim face a different scenario. With the injury count rising - added to yesterday with Ryan Murray going off in the first half and Paddy McAleer having to be replaced in the dying minutes – joint-managers Gearoid Adams and Frank Fitzsimmons desperately need to find a way clear of the relegation zone.
There were fears McAleer may have suffered a serious injury, but afterwards Adams reported that it may only be a muscular problem. He bemoaned the loss of the All Saints man and also his forward-line's decision-making in the first half.
“We opened them up quite often in the first half, but went for goals when there were points there to be taken. Those missed chances came back to haunt us in the second half.”
Whatever about chances being created, the opening half produced very few scores. There were, however, a number of controversial decisions, both sides having what appeared to be genuine penalty claims turned down.
Louth took time to settle, claiming three wides before Tommy Durnin opened the scoring with a 10th minute point. Eoin O'Connor followed almost immediately with a goal, the full-forward taking a pass from Paraic Smith before beating Chris Kerr from close range.
There was more than a hint of luck about Antrim's opening score. A poorly-taken kick-out by Louth goalkeeper Craig Lynch was collected by Ryan Murray and, trying his luck from about 20 yards, the Lamh Dearg clubman could only have been delighted when his shot went into the net off Louth full-back Paddy Reilly.
But to illustrate another point made by Adams afterwards when he said his side wasn't getting the rub of the green, Murray injured himself when taking the shot and had to be replaced.
Antrim drew level with a CJ McGourty point, but the home team were back in front by the interval, leading by 1-3 to 1-1.
Scores were more plentiful in the second half, and until Ryan Burns converted a 17th minute penalty, awarded for a Paddy McAleer foul on the spot-kicker, Antrim were in with a fighting chance, making much better use of their chances.
And even after Burns made it 2-7 to 1-5, the Saffrons refused to yield. McGourty added three points to his tally and, with the game well inside time added on, Ruairi Scott and Jack Dowling kept interest alive with a score apiece.
It was a goal that Antrim needed, however, and now with Louth pulling back more players than at any stage in the game, there were very few gaps for McGourty and company to exploit.
Commenting on his side's current position, manager Kelly added: “It's a great place to be; who would have thought it? We certainly did inside the dressing room, but I wouldn't say too many outside those four walls would have expected it.”
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Louth: C Lynch; P Rath, P Reilly, J Bingham (0-1); D Maguire, L Dullaghan, A Williams; T Durnin (0-1), D Byrne (0-1); J Stewart, P Smith (0-1), B Duffy (0-1); R Moore (0-1), E O'Connor (1-2), R Burns (1-2, 1-0 pen, 0-1free, 0-1 45). Subs: A Reid for P Smith (66), J Califf for Byrne (70).
Antrim: C Kerr; C Hamill, P Gallagher, P McAleer; P McBride (0-1), D Lynch, P Healy; J Dowling (0-1), S Beatty; C Murray (0-1), R Murray (1-0), K Niblock (0-2); CJ McGourty (0-5, 0-4 frees), C Small, M Fitzpatrick. Subs: P Branagan for Hamill (6), S Donnelly for R Murray (16), D Nugent for Small (51), J Hannigan for Healy (64), R Scott (0-1) for Fitzpatrick (66), O Hamill for McAleer (70)
Referee: P Faloon (Down)